NEW DELHI: The Punjab and Haryana High Court Thursday cancelled the 2006 bail of controversial guru Rampal Dass and placed him in judicial custody until November 28.
A two-judge bench of Justices M. Jeyapaul and Darshan Singh directed Haryana Police to file an affidavit giving details of the operation carried out to arrest Rampal from his ashram, along with damages, injuries to people, details of arms and ammunition in the ashram and loss of property.
The report is to be ready when the justices take up the contempt of court case next Friday.
The police informed the court that its non-bailable warrant against Rampal had been executed and they produced the controversial guru before the court in state capital Chandigarh at 2pm.
He was later moved to a police station in Panchkula city where he was locked behind bars.
Rampal insists he is innocent. “I am innocent,” Rampal told media outside the Panchkula police station. “All charges against me are baseless,” he added.
He was arrested in a late-night swoop by Haryana Police on Wednesday from his Satlok ashram situated in Barwala town of Hisar district.
Rampal had been evading arrest after the non-bailable warrant was issued against him due to his open defiance of court and failure to appear before it 43 times during the past four years.
Rampal’s counsel, S.K. Garg, had a bizarre explanation why his client couldn’t appear before the court during that time. According to him, Rampal was in captivity in the ashram and therefore was unable to honour court summons.
Adjourning the case to next Friday, the court commented there must be checks on deras (cults) and ashrams run by self-styled gurus such as Rampal.
Rampal, 63, had set up his ashram (religious centre) in the Rohtak district in 1999 after he was dismissed as a junior engineer in the irrigation department on charges of negligence. He claimed he was a reincarnation of the 15th century mystic poet Kabir. He subsequently renamed himself as Satguru Rampal Ji Maharaj and is estimated to have amassed assets worth over Rs1 billion (Dh59 million). He has nearly 2.5 million followers based in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, and owns a fleet of luxury cars, including BMWs and Mercedes.
His Barwala ashram, spread across 12 acres of land, was a virtual fortress with outer walls 10 metres high and a metre thick. The ashram was fitted with air-conditioned rooms for important followers.
Besides ashrams in Rohtak and Barwala, another ashram was under construction in Barwala itself. He is believed to have properties in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.
Rampal relocated to Barwala after he was first arrested in 2006 for allegedly asking his followers to fire at a group of agitators outside his Rohtak ashram. During that incident, one person was killed. He was later released on bail and has since been avoiding arrest, leading to the filing of fresh cases against him. In all, Rampal faces a total of 35 charges.
Interestingly, Rampal could have walked out with a mere reprimand in the contempt of court case had he honoured the court summons and tendered an apology. However, he may now end up spending rest of his life in jail as police in Haryana and elsewhere accused him of waging a de facto war against the nation.
Haryana Police booked him on 21 charges under the Indian Panel Code, ranging from arms offences, attempted murder, including sedition.
The newly installed Bharatiya Janata Party government in Haryana, which has been criticised for not handling the situation properly, is likely to add to Rampal’s woes. It has commenced investigations into reports Rampal built his ashram in Barwala without the necessary clearance from government departments and applying for a change of land use.
Another looming case is his alleged close proximately with outlawed Maoist guerrillas who are understood to be regular visitors to his ashram. Besides fortifying his ashram, the guerrillas are also believed to have taught his supporters who provided security to him on how to make explosive devices and petrol and acid bombs.