Dera Sacha Sauda leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is serving a prison sentence in a Haryana prison, was granted a three-week furlough on Monday, a reprieve which Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said. had nothing to do with the elections.
The 21-day holiday comes days before assembly polls in neighboring Punjab, where the sect has a large following, particularly in Bathinda, Sangrur, Patiala and Muktsar.
When questioned by reporters, the Haryana CM denied any link between the release of the cult leader from Sunaria prison in Rohtak district and the February 20 Punjab elections. “I think it’s a coincidence and has nothing to do with the polls,” he said.
The leader of the sect is serving a 20-year prison sentence for raping two female disciples in his ashram in Sirsa, where the headquarters of the “dera” is located.
He was sentenced by a special CBI court in Panchkula in August 2017.
He was granted leave for meeting his family in Gurugram. He had made the request to the Superintendent of Sunaria Prison and later a recommendation from the relevant Gurugram officials was also sought. Chief Dera was released from the prison under high security. In the evening, he had reached the Gurugram ashram where his family was waiting for him.
A police contingent was also deployed around the ashram earlier.
Khattar said a prisoner who has served three years of his sentence can apply for leave. This is followed by a process that includes administrative clearances and the involvement of police and prison authorities.
“There are court rulings that if a prisoner wants leave after three years, he can take it,” said Khattar, who leads the BJP-JJP government in the state. “It’s his right and he got it,” he said.
Last year, Chief Dera was granted emergency parole from sunrise to sunset to meet his sick mother. He has also been released from prison a few times for medical treatment.
However, this is the first time that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, 54, will stay out of jail for such a long period.
Haryana Prison Minister Ranjit Singh Chautala told reporters that the leave was granted by the Rohtak Divisional Commissioner on the recommendation received from the relevant officials. He also claimed that the leave was not linked to the ballot box in some states, including Punjab, and said it was a legal right.