The state-wide manhunt for Amritpal Singh continued on Sunday with Punjab police carrying out flag marches in several districts, picking up 34 more people linked to the outfit, and extending a ban on mobile internet and messaging services to heighten security and prevent any flare-up of violence.
Amritpal, a Khalistan secession campaigner and the chief of the group Waris Punjab De, has been on the run since what police said was a dramatic escape following a hot pursuit, although a lawyer representing Waris Punjab De filed a writ petition in the high court alleging he had been detained illegally.
“During the ongoing operations against the elements of Waris Punjab De and persons attempting to disturb peace and harmony in the state, another 34 arrests were made throughout the state on Sunday. A total of 112 persons have been arrested so far,” Punjab police said in a statement.
Four of the arrested men were brought to BJP-ruled Assam’s Dibrugarh by a 27-member Punjab Police team accompanying them, according to an Assam Police officer.
The men, now lodged in Dibrugarh Central Jail, were identified as alleged fund raiser Daljit Singh Kalsi, Bhagwant Singh, Gurmeet Singh and ‘Pradhanmantri’ Bajeka.
Police said they had found the vehicle Amritpal had escaped in with his uncle, and recovered a weapon, a sword and several rounds of bullets. The vehicle, an Isuzu SUV, was found abandoned at a village in Jalandhar district early in the morning.
The crackdown on Amritpal Singh began on Saturday and came weeks after Amrtipal and his supporters barged into the Ajnala police station near Amritsar, extracting an assurance that an arrested aide would be released.
Twenty-one of Amritpal’s supporters were taken into custody near Boparai Kalan in Jalandhar district when they tried to stage a dharna over the previous days’ action.
These detentions are apparently not part of the arrests’ tally given by police — 78 on Saturday and 34 more on Sunday. Earlier, police said nine firearms have also been seized.
The state remained on high alert. Security forces took out flag marches at several places including Ferozepur, Bathinda, Rupnagar, Faridkot, Batala, Fazilka, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur, Moga and Jalandhar in a show of strength.
In Amritsar, the police booked Amritpal under a fresh case of Arms Act after recovering six rifles of .12 bore and a revolver of .32 bore from his associates in Mehatpur on Saturday.
“Both are illegal arms. One of the accused Harminder Singh who was nabbed from Mehatpur on Saturday produced a licence of .315 bore rifle and .32 bore revolver. However, this licence too was considered cancelled as Harminder was found to be possessing 139 illegal cartridges of .315 bore rifle and 42 illegal rounds of .32 bore revolver. During his questioning, Harminder told us that the illegal ammunition was provided to him by one Gurbhej Singh of Bathinda on the instructions of Amritpal,” officials said.
The seven accused were produced in a court in Baba Bakala which sent them to four-day police remand. “During the remand, we will try to ascertain from where the illegal weapons were procured,” the SSP said.
According to officials, the searches were focussed on parts of Jalandhar district and special teams were also conducting search operations in Moga and Bathinda district where the Khalistani leader is said to have a strong network of young people.
In Jalandhar, senior police officials accompanied by Punjab police personnel and companies of para-military forces conducted search operations in villages in Nakodar and Shahkot areas.
Roads leading to Moga and Muktsar from Nakodar were completely sealed as no vehicles were allowed to move ahead without adequate checking.
Security has also been tightened at Amritpal’s native village Jallupur Khera in Amritsar, where his father Tarsem Singh said his son may have already been detained by police.
“He faces a threat to life,” the fugitive’s father said. “There is no information since yesterday. We feel he has already been detained.”
The Punjab and Haryana high court has, however, asked the state government to respond on Tuesday to a habeas corpus petition, that claims that the preacher is already in illegal police custody and should be released.
Justice NS Shekhawat held the hearing at his home-office as the courts were closed.
Inspector general of police Sukhchain Singh Gill said Amritpal Singh is still absconding. “Whatever the Punjab Police does in this case will be within the ambit of law. Everybody has a legal right and can avail whatever remedies are available under the law.”
He said police have acted in a transparent manner and Amritpal Singh was seen escaping at the “naka” laid for him in Mehatpur.
Jalandhar Police Commissioner Kuldeep Singh Chahal called it a game of “chor-sipahi” (robbers and cops).
“Sometimes, they manage to escape. But we will soon arrest him,” he said, maintaining that there was no lapse on Saturday.
(With PTI inputs)