M A I N   N E W S

Ashram siege over as Rampal arrested
* Sect head likely to be produced in court today
* Six followers dead
* Key aide among 492 supporters held
Deepender Deswal
Tribune News Service

Barwala (Hisar), November 19
A day after launching “Operation Rampal”, the Haryana police finally arrested the elusive sect head from his fortified Satlok Ashram at Barwala late this evening. At least six persons lost their lives in the stand-off, while a key aide and at least 492 supporters were also arrested.

The offensive ended with commandos of the Special Weapons and Tactical Team taking Rampal out of his fortified ashram around 9.20 pm. They drove him away in an ambulance parked at the gate.

Inspector General of Police Anil Kumar Rao, while talking to The Tribune, said: “We have arrested him and executed the orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.” Rampal is scheduled to be produced before the High Court in Chandigarh on Friday.

The ambulance escorted by police vehicles drove out of Barwala town towards Chandigarh. Sources said he was first taken to the Uklana police station, around 35 km from Barwala, and later shifted to the Panchkula civil hospital for medical examination.

Rampal ran out of options after a massive police build-up around his ashram over the past few days. More than 14,000 followers trickled out of the ashram overnight, weakening his security ring. His supporters finally announced on the loudspeaker that he was willing to court arrest. Backroom negotiations continued during the day in an attempt to persuade Rampal to court arrest. Some ruling politicians and an Independent MLA were involved in the dialogue, said sources.

Rampal’s aides demanded withdrawal of cases registered against him and his followers during the operation, besides a CBI probe into other cases. Rampal reportedly buckled under pressure as the police got ready to storm the ashram.

The HC had issued non-bailable arrest warrants against him on November 6 asking the police to produce him in court in a contempt case on November 10. But he defied the orders and the police failed to arrest him.

The court again issued arrest warrants on November 10 and asked for his production in court on November 17. But he against defied the order. The high court for the third time directed the police to arrest him by Friday.

Haryana Director General of Police SN Vashisth termed the operation a “success” saying the focus of the police was to minimise casualty. The police exercised restraint and did not open retaliatory fire even when Rampal’s followers fired upon the force trying to gain entry into the ashram.

The Haryana Police earlier in the day evacuated around 14,000 followers from the besieged ashram. The police allowed followers to move out before evacuating them in buses and ambulances to nearby railway stations and bus stands for onward journey.

Mounting pressure on the sect head, the police last night booked Rampal and his close aides for sedition. The police further arrested 492 persons after booking them under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. Of them, 72 were produced before Duty Magistrate Priyanka Jain who remanded them in 14-day judicial custody. Those arrested included Rampal’s aide Purushottam Dass.

A posse of police segregated followers as they emerged from the ashram.

While suspected members of Rampal’s “private army” were taken into custody, the rest were shifted to bus stands and railway stations at Barwala, Hisar, Jind and Hansi.

Earlier, the ashram handed over the bodies of four women to the police. Two more persons — a woman and a one-and-a-half-year-old baby — were taken in serious condition to a hospital where they died.

Rajni (20) of UP came out of the ashram in serious condition at 4 am. She was reportedly suffering from a heart ailment and was under treatment in UP. She was shifted to the Agroha Medical College where she later died, the police said.

The other deceased have been identified as Savita (31) from New Delhi; Santosh (45) from Rohtak, Malkiat Kaur (50) from Sangrur and Raj Bala (70) from Bijnaur. The police said the one-and-a-half-year-old child from Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh died in Satlok Ashram in the morning. He was reportedly suffering from jaundice.

(With agency inputs)

Vehicles set afire

Several abandoned vehicles parked in about two-km radius of Satlok Ashram were allegedly set afire by villagers. The vehicles belonged to devotees who had come to the ashram.

No marks on bodies

"Police did not fire a single shot in the whole operation.... There are no injury marks on the bodies. They could have died of natural causes or for want of medical help. The post-mortem will ascertain what caused their death and when"

— SN Vashisht, Haryana DGP

Action-packed day

Rampal’s followers leave Satlok Ashram on Wednesday
Rampal’s followers leave Satlok Ashram on Wednesday. PTI

08:00 am

The police facilitate exit of followers that began on Tuesday night

10:00 am

Two ambulances take the bodies of four women from the ashram to the Agroha medical college; followers continue to trickle out

02:30 pm

Police push buses and other vehicles away from the ashram triggering speculation of an offensive

04:30 pm

Backroom negations being moderated by leaders gather pace

06:00 pm

Followers announce on loudspeaker Rampal along with followers will surrender at 8 pm

06:30 pm

Two companies of Haryana Police, led by an SP and other officers, stay on; rest of the force is pushed back

08:00 pm

Some followers emerge from the ashram; Rampal is not among them

09:00 pm

A team proceeds towards the ashram. At 9:20 pm, Rampal is taken out of the ashram and driven away in an ambulance

10:00 pm

IGP confirms arrest; celebrations break out in Barwala





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