In a development that smacks strongly of a quid pro quo, the Haryana Government has given a clean chit to controversial godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS), on charges of giving followers secret arms training at the sect headquarters.
In related incidents, a CBI special court on Wednesday allowed Ram Rahim to go abroad to promote his film, The Messenger (earlier titled MSG: The Messenger of God), and the film’s producer approached the Haryana government for a 30 per cent entertainment tax waiver.
Interestingly, the Dera chief told the court that he had spent millions of rupees to produce the film and, just like Bollywood stars, he also wanted to promote the film in foreign countries.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim and Haryana's CM Manohar Lal Khattar
But the CBI counsel said that the cost of producing the film and the issue of promoting it were not related to his trial in a rape case.
Since Ram Rahim had openly supported the BJP’s bid for power during the Assembly elections, which helped the party install M.L. Khattar as its first chief minister in Haryana, it’s highly likely that the State Government will oblige on the tax exemption demand.
Haryana's BJP Chief Minister M.L. Khattar won power with the help of Dera support
Requesting anonymity, a senior excise official confirmed that the department had even fixed Monday for the film’s screening, a requirement to tax exempt any film under Section 11 of the Punjab Entertainments Duty Act of 1955, but the producers could not produce the mandatory CBFC certificate.
After the official committee watches the movie this week, it will seek Khattar’s assent to declare the film tax-free in the state.
Though the move will further bleed the state’s coffers, it is being seen as ‘repaying’ the ‘election support debt’.
Nearly 40 days after the Punjab and Haryana High Court had issued notices to Ram Rahim and the Haryana government over alleged arms training by serving and former Army men to the sect’s followers, the government told the court that “no training activities” were found at the Dera.
Haryana’s Additional Home Secretary told the court that the government had set up a committee to probe the allegations, but it found “neither illegal arms nor proof of any arms training” at DSS or its branches.
The government affidavit added: “The Dera’s security personnel have licensed weapons, which are regularly inspected by the authorities…. The state government will keep a strict vigil on Dera for such activities.”
After senior advocate Anupam Gupta, appointed the amicus curiae in the Hisar-based Satlok Ashram’s Rampal case, on November 28 said the Dera followers were also being trained in arms handling by serving and former Indian Army personnel, the court had sought details about other Deras whose activities were similar to Satlok Ashram.
Gupta had also submitted a letter, circulated internally by the Indian Army and a copy of which is with Mail Today, warning its officials to “abstain from getting directly or indirectly involved with the organisation (DSS) in any manner”.
The amicus curiae had also told the court that the presence of Indian Army personnel at the Dera and their activities may pose a danger to the nation’s security.
It is not known whether the Haryana government has submitted to the court the list of licensed arms and ammunition with the Dera’s security personnel.
A former dera follower had also told the court that Ram Rahim and his followers possess several vehicles and the sect chief has its own security force.
The CBI probe also found that the weapon used to kill journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati was in the name of Dera manager Kishan Lal.
Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
Chautala accuses Dera chief of using black money for film
A copy of a movie ticket priced at Rs 2,000
The movie is facing strong criticism from the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in the state. Upping the ante, the party’s young face Digvijay Chautala has accused the Dera Sacha Sauda chief of putting black money into the making of this movie.
“We have strong objection over the release of this movie as it could hurt a particular community. Apart from that, the Dera Sacha Sauda chief has been involved in money laundering and has been in the business of converting black money into white,” Chautala said in Gurgaon on Wednesday.
Chautala also slammed the BJP for providing support to Gurmeet Ram Rahim and advised the saffron brigade to learn some lessons from its defeat in Delhi Assembly elections.
“The BJP’s aim was to disperse the regional parties after the general election results and all the babas of the country were providing support to the cause,” Chautala said.
It may be recalled that the INLD had, last month, accused Dera Sacha Sauda and Hakikat Entertainment Private Limited, the producers of the film, The Messenger, of Rs 16 crore tax evasion.
“Hakikat Entertainment has collected Rs 60 crore by selling tickets for the premiere of the film and did not pay the entertainment tax worth Rs 16 crore . We have requested the commissioner excise and taxation to register an FIR against the people involved in tax evasion and, thus, recover the tax amount,” Chautala said.
Meanwhile, producers of the film have sought and exemption of entertainment tax from the Haryana government. The movie is scheduled for a February 13 release.
The promoters have requested the government to waive 30 per cent of the entertainment tax, saying that it carries a message against drug abuse and alcoholism.
Requesting anonymity, a state excise department senior official confirmed that the department had also fixed the screening of the film on Monday.