(Eds: Updating with more inputs) Chandigarh, Apr 2 (PTI) Rail and road traffic went for a toss at many places in Punjab and Haryana today as the Dalits staged protests over dilution of the SC/ST Act.
The police had to resort to cane charge after protesters turned violent at some places in the neighbouring states.
In view of the Bharat Bandh call given by various Dalit organisations, the Congress-led Punjab government had ordered closure of educational institutions, suspended bus services, and curtailed mobile and Internet connectivity.
Tight security arrangements were also put in place across the states and the common capital of Chandigarh.
The Punjab government had yesterday ordered a security clampdown as a precautionary measure, while the Army and paramilitary forces have been asked to be on standby to prevent any exigency.
Protest marches were taken out by the Dalits in Jalandhar, Patiala, Hoshiarpur, Ropar, Bathinda, Ferozepur, Bathinda, Kapurthala and Phagwara in Punjab, and at Panchkula, Ambala, Kaithal, Hisar, Rohtak, Yamunanagar, Faridabad and Gurugram in Haryana as well as in Chandigarh.
Markets wore a deserted look as shops and other commercial establishments remained closed and the vehicles remained off the road.
The Indo-Pakistan bus service, ‘Sada-e-Sarhad’, running between Delhi and Lahore was also disrupted. The Lahore-bound bus was halted at Sirhind and the Delhi-bound bus at Amritsar, police said, adding these buses will proceed to their destinations later in the afternoon.
The protesters squatted on the railway tracks at a few places in Punjab and Haryana, paralysing the rail traffic, railway officials of the Ambala and Ferozepur rail division said.
At Kaithal in Haryana, the protesters reportedly resorted to stone pelting and damaged a railway engine, police said.
Kaithal police had to restort to lathicharge and lob tear gas shells to disperse the protesters, they said, adding around 10 policemen were injured in the incident.
In Punjab’s Bathinda too, the protesters turned violent. Two people were injured in a clash between the protesters and shopkeepers near Mehna Chowk.
In Kapurthala, the protesters allegedly damaged about a dozen two-wheelers, smashed window panes of a lawyer’s car and vandalised a chemist shop, police said.
The agitators also disrupted traffic on the Kapurthala-Ferozepur section by staging a ‘dharna’ on the rail track at the Khojewal and Kapurthala railway stations.
All the roads leading to Kapurthala-Jalandhar, Kapurthala-Nakodar, Kapurthala Sultanpurlodhi and Subhanpur and Kartarpur were blocked by the agitators, police said.
The railway track was blocked at a crossing in Jalandhar.
The Jalandhar-Hoshiarpur road was also blocked for a while at Nasrala, police added.
Across the two states, thousands of Dalits, who drew support from various political outfits, social and religious bodies, took out march to protest the dilution of the Act.
They also burnt effigies of the NDA-led Centre, alleging that they had failed to protect the interests of the Dalits. .
In Haryana, the protesters blocked the Ambala-Hisar highway near Ambala City and NH-1 near Ambala Cantt for about an hour. In Panipat and Faridabad, traffic was disrupted for a while.
The Supreme Court had on March 20 diluted certain provisions of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, in a bid to protect ‘honest’ public servants discharging bona fide duties from being blackmailed with false cases under the Act.
The verdict is being widely criticised by the Dalits and the Opposition, who claim that the dilution of the Act will lead to more discrimination and crime against the backward community.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had ordered that schools, colleges and other educational institutions would remain shut today, while the Internet services were suspended from 5 pm yesterday till 11 pm today.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had postponed Class 12 and Class 10 examinations scheduled to be held today in Punjab at the request of the state government in view of the Bharat Bandh.
The state education department announced late last night that the final practical examinations of Classes 10 and 12 of the Punjab School Education Board will be conducted on April 11 instead of today.
As part of the elaborate security measures, four battalions each of the Rapid Action Force and the Border Security Force, and 12,000 additional police personnel have been put on duty to maintain law and order, an official spokesperson said.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.