The Punjab government has extended the suspension of mobile internet and SMS services till Monday (March 20) noon, even as the hunt for radical Sikh preacher and Khalistan sympathiser Amritpal Singh continued.
Haryana has also intensified the checking of vehicles along the border with the neighbouring state, as security forces conducted flag marches at several places in Punjab. So far, 78 members of Punjab Waris De, an outfit headed by him Amritpal Singh, have been arrested.
At Haryana’s Shambhu border with Punjab, Ambala police have been put on high alert, and additional checkpoints set up, officials said on Sunday. In Kurukshetra, Kaithal, and Sirsa districts, which share borders with Punjab, police are maintaining strict vigil and have intensified the checking of vehicles.
Meanwhile, a petition was filed in High Court, alleging that Amritpal Singh had been illegally detained by Punjab Police and seeking his production in court. The court has asked the state to respond by Tuesday.
Also on Sunday, a fresh FIR was lodged against Amritpal Singh and some of his associates in connection with the possession of illegal weapons, a senior police officer said. Amritsar Rural Senior Superintendent of Police Satinder Singh said seven of Amritpal’s associates have been arrested under Arms Act.
Police had already registered an FIR in the February 23 Ajnala incident against Amritpal and his associates.
Speaking to reporters in Amritsar on Sunday, the SSP said police had arrested seven associates of the self-styled Sikh preacher near Mehatpur in Jalandhar on Saturday. They were part of Amritpal’s convoy, the police officer said. He said six 12-bore guns and some cartridges have been seized, which are illegal.
Referring to the arrest of seven accused on Saturday night, the SSP said, “We have registered a fresh FIR last night now under the Arms Act in which Amritpal is the key accused. All seven are also accused in this fresh FIR.”
The state authorities had on Saturday suspended the internet and SMS services till Sunday noon. The police earlier said they will soon arrest the fugitive preacher.
“In exercise of power conferred on me under the India Telegraph Act, 1885, it is directed that all mobile internet services (2G/3G/45/5G/CDMA/GPRS), all SMS services (excluding banking and mobile recharge) and all dongle services provided on mobile networks, except voice calls, in the territorial jurisdiction of Punjab shall be further suspended from March 19 (12.00 hours) to March 20 (12.00 hours) to prevent any incitement to violence and any disturbance of peace and public order,” an official order issued on Sunday said.
The broadband services are not being suspended so that banking facilities, hospital services and other essential services are not disrupted, the order issued by the additional chief secretary said.
Amritpal declared fugitive
The Sikh preacher who remained elusive despite Punjab Police’s attempts to nab him, has been declared a fugitive. Jalandhar Police Commissioner Kuldeep Singh Chahal on Saturday said that a manhunt to nab Amritpal was underway and that police will arrest him soon.
“He is now a fugitive and we are looking for him and we will soon arrest him,” Chahal told reporters near Nakodar in Jalandhar late on Saturday night.
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Chahal said six to seven gunmen of Amritpal Singh have been arrested.
On Saturday, the Punjab government launched a major crackdown against Amritpal, with police arresting 78 members of an outfit headed by him, officials said.
4 members taken to Assam
Four members of an Amritpal Singh’s outfit who were arrested in Punjab, have been taken to Assam’s Dibrugarh on Sunday, police said. They were flown in a special flight, they said.
“The four are currently kept in Dibrugarh central jail,” a police officer in Dibrugarh said, without elaborating further.
The elusive preacher himself, however, gave the police a slip and escaped their dragnet when his cavalcade was intercepted in Jalandhar district. As the operation went underway, authorities stepped up security at several places and suspended internet and SMS services in the state till Sunday noon.
Police on Saturday launched a “massive state-wide cordon and search operations (CASO)” in the state against the members of the Waris Punjab De group, headed by Amritpal, against whom several criminal cases have been registered.
The police action came a day ahead of the start of Amritpal’s Khalsa Wahir – a religious procession – which was to start from Muktsar district. During their state-wide operation, police seized one .315 bore rifle, seven 12 bore rifles, one revolver, and 373 live cartridges of different caliber.
Security has been tightened at many places in Punjab with an intensive vehicle checking. A police spokesperson said that the followers of Waris Punjab De, or WPD, are involved in four criminal cases relating to spreading disharmony among classes, attempt to murder, attack on police personnel, and creating obstructions in the lawful discharge of duties of public servants.
Meanwhile, security has been beefed up on Himachal Pradesh borders with Punjab in view of a crackdown against Amritpal Singh. Strict vigil is being kept with checking of all suspicious looking vehicles on every check post along Nangal and Gagret, said Una (HP) Superintendent of Police Arjit Sen Thakur.
The Una Police has barricaded several places and deployed its personnel in heavy numbers on the Himachal-Punjab border.
My son was working against drug menace: Amritpal’s father
On Saturday, Amritpal’s father Tarsem Singh told the media that the action against his son was a political conspiracy as he working to end the drug menace in the state.
“Amritpal is working against drugs. It is the reason that there is political pressure to arrest him. This action against Amritpal is unjustified. There are drugs in every home. But there is no focus on that issue. If someone is trying to end the drug menace, he is being stopped,” he told ANI.
Also read: Punjab: Radical leader Amritpal Singh on the run, 78 arrested; internet shut
“Police are after Amritpal but doing nothing against smugglers. Amritpal came to Punjab just a few months back. What were they doing about the crime before he came?” Singh said.
Stating that his family didn’t have any information about Amritpal, Singh said the police should have arrested him when he left the house in the morning.
“”We don’t have correct information about him. Police conducted searches for three-four houses at our house. They didn’t find anything illegal…The police should have arrested him when he left the house in the morning,” he said.
Attack on police station
An FIR dated February 24 stands registered against WPD elements for the attack on Ajnala Police Station.
Last month, Amritpal and his supporters, some of them brandishing swords and guns, broke through barricades and barged into the Ajnala Police Station on the outskirts of the Amritsar city, clashing with police for the release of one of Amritpal’s aide.
Also read: Punjab Sikh leaders unhappy with Amritpal for using Guru Grant Sahib as ‘shield’
After the incident, in which six policemen including a Superintendent of Police rank officer had suffered injuries, the AAP government in the state had faced severe flak and was accused of kowtowing to extremists. Dubai-returned Amritpal was last year anointed the head of Waris Punjab De, which was founded by actor and activist Deep Sidhu who died in a road accident in February last year.
(With inputs from agencies)