Rohtak/Chandigarh, Feb 20 (IANS) Chaos reigned in Haryana on Saturday with escalated violence in several areas as hooligans, who have joined ranks of Jat protestors, ran amok, setting afire government and private property and vehicles, blocking roads and highways, disrupting trains and uprooting tracks and indulging in looting.
Curfew was imposed in Hisar, Sonipat and Jind towns after violence. Violence was also reported from Kaithal.
The death toll in the violence in past 36 hours has reached four with over 100 people being injured. One person was killed when soldiers opened fire on an unruly mob in Jhajjar.
The Haryana Police and local administration in the affected districts have failed to react to the violence, leave alone controlling it even as the army moved in to control the situation in the worst-affected areas of Rohtak, Bhiwani and Jhajjar.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and NSA Ajit Doval discussed the deteriorating law and order situation in the state in New Delhi.
While Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar appealed to protestors to stop the violence and his BJP invited them to hold talks with the party’s central leadership, his predecessor Bhupinder Singh Hooda, of the Congress, said that he would start a hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi from Saturday till the situation normalised.
Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Abhay Chautala demanded that the Khattar government be dismissed and president’s rule be imposed in view of the deteriorating situation.
Army columns conducted flag marches at various places in the violence-hit districts as the security forces grappled with the tense situation in areas where violence occurred.
However, the army did not take a flag march towards Gate No.2 of Maharishi Dayanand University in Rohtak town as nearly 3,000 Jat youth laid siege to the area, armed with sharp-edged weapons, despite warnings by the authorities not to venture out of their homes.
Protesters set several buses on fire in the Gohana bus stand in Sonipat district, 210 km from Chandigarh.
Mobs set a police station in Meham town on fire. A police station and a railway station was set on fire in Jind district, a ‘dharamshala’ (free hostelry) was set on fire in Jhajjar and buses were set on fire in Julana and Kaithal towns.
Buildings of revenue departments were also set on fire at some places.
The toll plaza on the Panipat-Rohtak highway was also set on fire by mobs, while protesters uprooted the Delhi-Ambala railway track at Rajlu Garhi in Panipat district, disrupting the crucial rail line which connects Delhi with north India and leaving hundreds of passengers stranded. Nearly 550 trains were either cancelled or diverted since the agitation began.
The Vita milk plant was set on fire in Rohtak and scores of shops were set afire in the town.
Curfew continued in Rohtak, Bhiwani and Jhajjar towns on Saturday but the violence did not stop.
Haryana Director General of Police Y.P. Singhal said that 129 cases have so far been registered against agitators and claimed that the situation improved on Saturday compared to Friday.
Home Secretary P.K. Das said no untoward incident was reported from Rohtak, Bhiwani and Jhajjar districts, and that more army and para-military would be air-lifted to the violence-hit areas.
“A petrol pump and Sadar police station in Meham were damaged and set on fire. The national highway-1 (NH-1) is blocked but efforts are on to get the blockade lifted,” Singhal said.
He said 13 army columns have reached the state to assist the administration and 10 more columns are being airlifted, while 10 companies of paramilitary forces have reached the state and 23 more are on their way.
The DGP said the ongoing agitation in Haryana was “leaderless”, and the role of outsiders in the violence could not be ruled out.
Soldiers were airdropped earlier on Saturday in violence-hit Rohtak town after the protesters blocked and dug up roads to prevent their entry. Indian Air Force helicopters conducted several sorties to transport soldiers into some parts of the town.
The agitation began as Jats demanded reservation for the community in government jobs and educational institutions.
Reports said NH-1 was blocked by protesters in Sonipat district, 50 km from Delhi, and thousands of people and hundreds of vehicles were stranded. Traffic was also disrupted in Gurgaon.