COVID-19 PROTOCOLS took a backseat on Friday, as Navjot SIngh Sidhu took the driver’s seat of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee in Chandigarh, with thousands jostling for space in and outside the Congress Bhavan in Sector 15 and flouting all social-distancing norms.
Estimates said that at least 10,000 Congress workers, besides senior party leaders, had turned up at Congress Bhawan, making it a nightmare for the administration. The UT administration, later, clarified that no prior permission had been sought for the gathering and it was in violation of Section 144 of CrPC that has been imposed in the UT. The guidelines in place for Covid control allow the presence of only 200 people for a function or 50 per cent capacity of a building, which was violated on Friday. Later in the day, Chandigarh Police lodged an FIR under Section 188 of IPC for violating the Section 144 of CrPC against unknown persons at PS 11. DIG Omvir Bishnoi said, “We have lodged an FIR under the relevant section. All collected evidence is being reviewed.”
The Congress Bhavan is situated in Sector 15, which falls under the jurisdiction of Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Central, Harjeet Singh Sidhu.
When contacted, SDM Harjeet Singh Sidhu, said, “I have not received any application seeking permission for any gathering at Punjab Congress Bhavan in Sector 15. Yesterday (Thursday) too, some Haryana Congress workers had gathered there without permission and we had detained them. The UT Police may have a better idea about today’s programme.”
DSP (central) Charanjit Singh Virk, on his part, maintained, “We just received an order about a large-scale gathering along with the route plan for traffic diversion. I will check whether any permission was given for holding the event or not.”
At least 1,300 police personnel — including women cops, and IRB personnel — were deputed for maintaining the law and order around the Congress Bhavan. The Congress Bhavan was barricaded from two sides, while a portion of the main road too was blocked by the police, leading to inconveniences to the general public. Though all PGI-bound ambulances were allowed to cross the barricades installed at Sector 15/16/11/10 roundabout, general traffic was diverted from the side of Sector 11 market. Congress supporters, and leaders, who had arrived from throughout Punjab, parked thousands of vehicles on the green belts situated on both sides of Madhya Marg passing through Sector 15, Sector 10, Sector 11 and Sector 16.
Teachers shout anti-state slogans
On Friday, minutes after Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, new state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, and other leaders left the Congress Bhavan building, a group of around a dozen government teachers managed to access it and climb the building’s roof. The teachers then raised anti-government slogans from there, accusing the Amarinder Singh government for not fulfilling any of their demands.
The protesting teachers — including eight women — were not armed with any placards or posters. The police personnel deployed outside the building only came to know about the breach by the teachers after the protesters started raising slogans. The police had to resort to mild force to remove the protester and take them to Sector 11 police station. Later, they were released after a medical examination. UT police DSP Charanjit Singh Virk said, “Chandigarh police was only deputed for maintaining the law and order outside Congress Bhavan building. Anything that happens inside the building is the responsibility of Punjab Police.”
A portion of Madhya Marg from Sector 15 to PGI roundabout was blocked for the general public during the installation ceremony of Navjot Singh Sidhu on Friday. The road was blocked with barricades, though all PGI-bound ambulances were allowed to pass. General commuters, however, were rerouted through Sector 11 market of Sector 10/3 roundabout. The barricades were removed around 2.15pm.
Meanwhile, thousands of Congress leaders and workers who had come for the ceremony on Friday parked their vehicles on the green belt on either side of the main road dividing Sector 10, Sector 11, Sector 15, Sector 16. A traffic police inspector said, “We had not given permission to anyone to park the vehicle on the main road. Maximum vehicles were parked on the green belts. Nearby Sector 15 vendor market was chaotic too.”
850 cops deployed on a 1km stretch
Anticipating the huge rush, around 850 police personnel — out of the 1,300 deputed — were put on duty between the Congress Bhawan and the roundabout of Sector 15/11. Two DSPs along with four inspector rank officers were appointed for supervision.