A special CBI court on Monday sentenced Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to 20 years in prison after his conviction in a 2002 rape case that triggered violence leaving 38 dead and scores injured in Haryana.
CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh, who holds the court in Panchkula, near Chandigarh, pronounced the sentence in a special courtroom set up inside the Sunaria jail where Ram Rahim, the 50-year-old self-styled godman, is lodged since last Friday after he was convicted.
The judge was brought to Rohtak by a chopper from Chandigarh and landed in a helipad near the jail located on the outskirts of Rohtak.
The judge awarded the 20-year jail term after hearing arguments on the quantum of the sentence by prosecution and defence lawyers.
The special courtroom within the jail was set up on the instructions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The high court had notified district jail at Sunaria as a place of sitting of CBI court of Additional District and Sessions Judge, Panchkula for the purpose of hearing on the quantum of sentence and pronouncement of the sentence.
A multi-layer security cordon manned by police and 23 companies of paramilitary forces was thrown in and around Rohtak and also around the jail. The Army has been kept on standby while all routes to the jail were sealed.
Haryana and Punjab remained on high alert with officials warning that violent miscreants will be shot at sight, describing the security situation as “challenging.”
The special CBI court of Judge Jagdeep Singh in Panchkula last Friday held Ram Rahim guilty of rape in a case that was registered on the basis of an anonymous written complaint in April 2002 that he had sexually exploited two female followers. The case was registered by the CBI in December 2002 on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The CBI filed the chargesheet against the Dera head in Ambala court in July 2007 about five years after the registration of the rape case. The chargesheet mentions sexual exploitation of two ‘Sadhvis’ (women followers) between 1999 and 2001.
The special CBI court framed charges against Ram Rahim under sections 376 (rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC in September 2008.
Between 2009 and 2010, the two complainants recorded their statements before the court.
The special CBI court shifted from Ambala to Panchkula and the case against Dera chief was also transferred to Panchkula CBI Court.
In July 2017, the court ordered daily hearing and arguments of prosecution and defence were concluded on August 17, 2017. It held Ram Rahim guilty of rape on August 25.
Authorities are geared up to prevent a repeat of the mayhem on Friday by the followers of the Dera chief.
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), prohibiting assembly of five or more persons, and carrying of firearms and other weapons, are already in place in Rohtak district.
Rohtak Deputy Commissioner Atul Kumar said police will not hesitate to open fire again at those spreading violence.
“It is a challenging situation, but we are prepared”, Kumar told reporters.
“We are prepared to deal with any unscrupulous element who may try to create trouble ... if there is any such element who indulges in any act of violence endangering innocent lives, if he does not pay heed to warnings then shoot-at-sight will be used against him. Action will be taken as the situation demands,” he asserted.
He said the Rohtak administration and security personnel were dealing with a “dynamic and challenging situation”.
“We have clarity of thought, we are not confused. If we feel any person is endangering lives of innocent people and is causing damage to property, then shoot-at-sight will be used (to deal in such a situation),” he said.
Haryana DGP B S Sandhu also said that “maintaining law and order is the top priority for the Haryana Police today.”
A special court room has was set up within the Sunaria jail, Rohtak Range IG, Navdeep Singh Virk said.
Virk said the Haryana Police was fully geared to deal with any situation and police from neighbouring districts too has been deployed.
He said it will be ensured that no Dera follower is allowed to enter Rohtak district or come near the jail.
“For that, we have set up special barricades across the entire Rohtak district,” he said.
As a precautionary measure, schools and other educational institutions remained shut in Haryana while these will also remain closed in sensitive districts in Punjab.