Barwala: The Barwala town of Haryana was tense as it braced tonight for a possible showdown between police and supporters of self-styled godman Rampal ahead of a High Court deadline for his appearance tomorrow in a contempt case, reports said on Sunday.
A large posse of police and paramilitary personnel have been deployed in this area of Hissar district with official sources saying a plan to storm the Satlok Ashram, the seat of the godman, has been kept ready even as efforts are being made to persuade him to surrender on his own to avert any violence.
A police official said additional forces have been deployed in Barwala town where Rampal is being protected by a strong human shield formed by his followers, some of whom are stated to be carrying lethal weapons.
Apprehending trouble, authorities imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC (which bars assembly of more than four people at one place) at various places, including Barwala, Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali.
Inspector General Anil Kumar Rao and Superintendent of Police Satendar Kumar Gupta said police would abide by the order of the High Court to arrest Rampal and produce him before the court.
They, however, declined to divulge the strategy to arrest the 63-year-old controversial engineer-turned godman.
Police and paramilitary forces surrounded the ashram and sealed all roads leading to the premises where disciples of the godman, including a sizeable number of women and children, were holed up to prevent his arrest.
Chief volunteer of the Ashram Purushottam Dass said the godman was ill and could not travel to Chandigarh, which is about 270 kms from here. He wanted video conferening of Rampal rather than his personal appearance before the High Court tomorrow.
Punjab and Haryana High Court had on Monday last issued a
fresh non-bailable arrest warrant against Rampal in a contempt case and asked as to why his bail in a 2006 murder case should not be cancelled.
The High Court had rejected Haryana government's plea that Rampal was unwell and his arrest would create law and order problems.
Holding that the state government lacked willingness to arrest the godman and no sincere efforts were made to produce him before it, the HC directed the Haryana Director General of Police and the Home Secretary to ensure that Rampal appears in person before it.
Rampal has been charged with interfering in judicial proceedings during the hearing of a case in the Hisar sessions court.
On July 15, his supporters had marched inside the district court complex in Hisar and tried to create trouble in the court proceedings.
The HC took cognisance of the case and issued notices to Rampal and the state government. As he failed to appear before it, the court had last week issued non-bailable warrant against Rampal and asked the Haryana government to produce him and his aide Ram Kunwar Dhaka before it.
All eateries along the 7-km stretch on the national highway from Barwala town to Gabipur village have been shut.
Hissar district administration has also ordered a three-day shutdown of schools in the vicinity of the Ashram while hospitals in the area have been put on high alert and about 40 ambulances are ready in case of a showdown between the police and followers of the godman.
Police are keeping a close eye to ensure that Rampal's followers do not march towards Chandigarh in view of the court hearing tomorrow as it may create a law and order problem.
The disciples of the godman have maintained that they would not allow police to arrest him till he recovers fully.
Rampal had shifted his base from Rohtak to Barwala town of Hisar. In July 2006, during a clash with villagers, thousands of his followers had gathered at his ashram and made it tough for police to arrest Rampal in a murder case.
Again in 2013, when they tried to take possession of his ashram at Karontha village in Rohtak district, a large number of followers went inside the ashram during the night and refused to leave which led to a clash in which two persons were killed and many others injured.
Security measures have been strengthened around the Punjab and Haryana High Court premises in Chandigarh while additional forces have been deployed around the railway station and the inter-state bus terminals, officials said.