Chandigarh: Three months after their violent agitation left 30 dead, Jat leaders today renewed their quota stir in Haryana which was restricted to small meetings in 15 districts amid tight security by the BJP government which had drawn flak over its handling of the protest last time.
“It has been peaceful so far,” Haryana’s Additional Director General Police (Law and Order) Muhammad Akil said as nearly 20,000 security personnel from central and state forces kept a a close vigil across the state, including on national highways and railway tracks which the protesters had blocked for several days in February.
Jat leaders in Jassia village of Rohtak district, the epicentre of violence during the stir, held a ‘havan’ as they started the second round of the agitation on a tepid note with influential Khap panchayats and some Jat factions distancing themselves from the protests.
All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (AIJASS), which gave the call for the protest, pitched a tent along the Rohtak-Panipat highway just outside Jassia and also held dharnas in 15 of the state’s 21 districts.
The Jat protesters are demanding quota under OBC category, withdrawal of cases registered against community members during the previous stir, status of martyrs for those killed and jobs for their next of kin, besides compensation for the injured.
The agitation this time was restricted to so called ‘Jat belt’ comprising districts like Jhajjar, Sonipat, Rohtak, Panipat, Hisar, Fatehabad and Jind. “There are small groups of protesters mainly in the rural areas. At some places, the protesters handed over memorandums to district authorities,” an official said.
Prohibitory orders were clamped at sensitive places in these districts and security forces conducted flag marches as the administration geared up to ensure that there is no repeat of earlier incidents when 30 people were killed, property worth hundreds of crores of rupees destroyed and key routes blocked by agitators.
A special round-the-clock control room was set up in Chandigarh to monitor the situation. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, senior officials including the Chief Secretary, the Home Secretary, the state DGP, were keeping a close watch on the situation, officials said.
AIJASS Hisar president Rambhagat Malik said, “We are committed to holding dharnas in a peaceful manner.” After the Jat agitation, which paralysed normal life in Haryana and affected Delhi and other neighbouring states too, the state government recently brought in laws to provide reservation for Jats and five other communities under a newly carved Backward Classes (C) category.
However, the High Court stayed it, acting on a public interest litigation, after which some Jat groups announced the fresh stir. In Hisar, members of the Jat community started an indefinite dharna at a stadium in village Mayyar away from railway tracks and national highway, police said. Addressing the protesters, Jat leaders accused the Haryana government of not being serious towards their demand for reservation.
The Jat leaders said in case the government did not respond to their demands in a positive manner, they would be left with no other option but to take to the streets. “The dharnas have been peaceful. People have the right to put forth their views in a democratic set up but it should be within the ambit of law,” state Agricultural Minister O P Dhankar said.
“We had fulfilled their demand but it was challenged in court. The state government is doing the needful,” he said. In the wake of severe criticism for failing to check violence, the Khattar Government had set up Prakash Singh Committee whose inqury report had indicted 90 officials for “deliberate negligence” during the stir.
The panel, in its 451-page report, had said that “administrative paralysis” had gripped the state and the “highest functionaries in the government failed to show the kind of guidance, direction and control that is expected in a crisis of such proportions”. Ram Bhagat Malik, spokesman of All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (Yashpal faction) which held protests in Hisar, said the dharna would be peaceful this time so that normal life remains unaffected.
Hisar Deputy Commissioner Nikhil Gajraj deployed 17 duty magistrates to maintain law and order in their respective areas. “Fifty-five companies of paramilitary personnel drawn from CRPF,ITBP and BSF have been deployed in sensitive districts in the state,” Haryana’s Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ram Niwas said. One company comprises nearly 100 personnel.
Apart from it, state police forces were deployed and all leaves were cancelled. “An estimated 20,000 security personnel are keeping vigil,” a senior polic official said. Niwas said areas have already been specified for dharnas andanyone indulging in any activity violating the law will be dealt with strictly. Khattar had earlier said the Jat leaders had given him an assurance that they would hold peaceful dharnas, even as he has appealed to the community members to cooperate in maintaining law and order.
Police and paramilitary forces have also been deployed to guard the Western Yamuna Canal in Sonipat district. Protesters had disrupted water supply to the national capital by damaging a channel of Munak Canal during the stir. “Section 144 has been enforced in sensitive districts, including Jhajjar, Sonipat, Rohtak, Panipat, Hisar, Fatehabad, Jind and Kaithal. Section 144 has also been enforced upto a distance of one km on both sides of national highways and railway lines,” Niwas said.
Police were keeping a close watch on anyone trying to spread rumours or inflammatory statements through the social media. “We are fully geared up to meet any kind of situation during the agitation,” Akil said. Sonipat District Magistrate K Makarand Pandurang has issued orders banning all internet services, including Edge, GPRS and bulk SMS sent via mobile. The ban would be effective till further orders, an official release said.
He said there were chances of these services being used to spread false information, rumours and messages for blocking roads, highways, railway tracks, damaging government property and disrupting essential services and supply of food. “Social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Google Plus and mobile internet could be misused for this purpose,” he said.
Pandurang said that all telecom service providers have been directed to strictly abide by these orders. Prominent Jat leaders Hawa Singh Sangwan and Nafe Singh Nain have announced that they will not participate in the fresh protest. PTI
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