In a sensational jailbreak, a group of armed men in police uniform today attacked the high-security Nabha Jail in Patiala and fled with five prisoners, including Khalistan Liberation Front chief Harminder Mintoo, an accused in 10 cases.
Heads started to roll soon after the incident with the Punjab Government suspending DG (Jails) and dismissing two other senior prison officials even as the opposition Congress said the incident exposed the "complete breakdown of law and order" in the state and triggered fears of revival of terrorism ahead of assembly elections. The Centre has sought a report from the state government over the jailbreak incident. Giving details of the jailbreak, police said a group of youths dressed in police uniform stormed the jail and opened indiscriminate fire.
Five prisoners including a hardcore terrorist escaped, they said. Those who escaped from the high-security prison include gangster Vicky Gaundar, Gurpreet Sekhon, Nita Deol, Vikramjeet, and Mintoo, police said.
Mintoo was arrested by Punjab Police from Delhi's IGI Airport in 2014. He was arrested in connection with 10 cases including the 2008 attack on Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and recovery of explosives at Halwara Air Force Station in 2010. A high alert has been sounded in Punjab and Haryana after the incident with security around railway stations, airports, inter-state bus terminuses and other places of key importance stepped up.
Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal has summoned an emergent meeting of senior officials including State Chief Secretary Sarvesh Kaushal following the incident. Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal said, "DG Jails has been suspended and Jail superintendent and Deputy Jail Superintendent have been dismissed". A manhunt has been launched to trace the prisoners who escaped, Sukhbir Badal, who also holds the home portfolio, said and added that a special task force has been formed to track them.
The Deputy CM said a special investigation team under a ADGP rank officer has also been constituted which shall look into lapses as well as any conspiracy theories surrounding the jail break incident. "Special Investigation team has been asked to submit report within three days in this regard," he said. The Home Secretary has also been asked to submit a report.
"Home Secretary will give me a report on whether any lapse has taken place. Whosoever will be found responsible in this incident, strict action will be taken against him," he said. In another development, a woman was killed when police opened fire at a vehicle which had jumped a barrier.
The incident occurred at a 'naka' on Patiala-Gulha Cheeka road. Police tried to stop the car, but its driver did not stop despite being asked to and when police opened fire, a woman who received the gunshot wounds was killed. Police sources said that it could not be immediately ascertained whether the woman, who was not travelling in the car which jumped the barrier, was in some other vehicle or was walking on the road when she got hit by the bullet.
The jailbreak incident triggered sharp reactions from the opposition with Punjab Congress President Capt Amarinder Singh alleging connivance of the Badal government in the "brazen daylight" jailbreak. Amarinder Singh said the incident has exposed a "complete breakdown of law and order" in the state, while triggering fears of revival of terrorism ahead of the Assembly elections. The "shocking manner" in which the gangsters walked into the high-security jail and freed a dreaded Khalistani terrorist along with other convicts clearly shows complicity at the highest levels, he told reporters during the second day of the his road show in Sangrur.
Amarinder said the law and order situation in the state had "deteriorated to unprecedented levels" under the Badal regime, especially in the run-up to the Assembly polls.