The Punjab & Haryana High Court on Tuesday slammed the Punjab Government over the “intelligence failure” that led to pro-Khalistan preacher giving police the slip. “You have 80,000 cops. What were they doing? How did Amritpal Singh escape?” the High Court asked Punjab Government.
The State Government informed the HC that the stringent National Security Act has been invoked against Amritpal.
Police arrested four people who helped the radical preacher on Saturday carry out his escape as police cars gave chase.
Amritpal switched from one car to another, changed clothes at a gurdwara and then fled along with three other associates on two motorcycles. About 154 people have been arrested since police began its crackdown against those linked with the preacher and “Waris Punjab De”.
Three more people, including the preacher’s uncle Harjit Singh, were brought Tuesday to the central jail in Assam’s Dibrugarh. Four others were sent there on Sunday. The jail now holds seven men caught during the operation that began weeks after Amritpal Singh and his supporters stormed the Ajnala police station near Amritsar on February 23.
According to the affidavit submitted by police in the the High Court, a non-bailable warrant was also issued against the extremist on Monday.
The detention order against him under the NSA was issued by the Amritsar district magistrate on Saturday, it said. The tough law allows preventive detention of anyone who could threaten peace and national security.
The trigger for police action was the storming of the Ajnala police station near Amritsar by the Amritpal Singh and his supporters on February 23 to force the release of an arrested man.
The HC was hearing the habeas corpus petition filed by Imaan Singh Khara that claimed that Singh was already in police custody, and sought his production in court.
Justice NS Shekhawat asked Punjab Advocate General Vinod Ghai how Amritpal Singh gave police the slip when the whole operation was meticulously planned, and called it an intelligence failure.
The affidavit said a police team had signalled Singh’s cavalcade – a Mercedes and three other cars – to stop at the checkpoint they had set up near Khilchian police station in Amritsar (Rural) district.
But the cavalcade broke through the checkpoint.
The preacher and his companions were then spotted near a government school in Jalandhar’s Salema village, driving rashly in an Isuzu pick-up. He was allegedly brandishing a .315 rifle to create fear among the people.
They later abandoned this car, according to the affidavit.
At a media briefing, Punjab Inspector General of Police (Headquarter) Sukhchain Singh Gill said CCTV footage from Jalandhar showed Amritpal Singh in a Brezza car, which has now been seized from one of the four men arrested for helping him escape.
Questioning these men, police learnt that Singh went to a gurdwara in Jalandhar’s Nangal Ambian village
“There he changed his clothes, wore a shirt and pants and escaped along with three others on two bikes,” Gill said.
Manpreet Singh alias Manna, Gurdeep Singh alias Deepa, Harpreet Singh alias Happy and Gurbhej Singh alias Bheja have been apprehended for helping him escape, the officer said.
A .315 bore rifle, some swords and a walkie-talkie set were found in the seized Brezza car.
Police released seven pictures of Amritpal Singh in different clothes to help people spot him and inform police.
Gill said Amritpal’s uncle Harjit Singh and his driver Harpreet Singh have been booked in another case after they made the sarpanch of Uddowal village in Jalandhar give them shelter at gunpoint.
The two had earlier surrendered before police in Jalandhar. Harjit Singh is among those sent to the Dibrugarh jail.
The IG said a group of Nihangs had held a protest in support of the Waris Punjab De chief near Shaheedan gurdwara in Mohali has now ended. The protest has ended, and the road again open traffic, he said.
In his first comment on the police crackdown, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said the action was against those who were talking about disturbing peace “at the instance of foreign forces”.
“They will be given the strictest punishment because the AAP is a staunch nationalist and honest party,” the CM said in a video message.
In Delhi, Aam Aadmi Party convenor Arvind Kejriwal said the Punjab government was not afraid of taking stringent measures to curb criminal activities in the state.
“When we came to power in Punjab, people said they can work in the fields of education, health and power but handling the law and order situation will be tough,” the Delhi CM said.