The prisoners who still make Chandigarh feel ‘disturbed’

Years after the Khalistan movement had ebbed in Punjab, the Punjab and Haryana High Court last week quashed the notification that declared Chandigarh a disturbed area. This came after the Chandigarh Administration had made a case for retaining the disturbed tag, one of its key grounds being that some key pro-Khalistan leaders remain lodged in Burail jail.

A look at what a "disturbed area" means, and the key Babbar Khalsa International leaders who remain in the jail.

How long was Chandigarh a 'disturbed' area?

It was first declared a disturbed area in 1986, owing to terrorism in Punjab. The notification was reviewed and a fresh notification issued in 1994, extending that status.

What does the tag mean?

Under the Disturbed Area Act, police officers get special powers, which can include picking up or shooting any person, leading to his death, if he is believed suspicious. Such a status entails additional Central grants for modernisation of police, besides extra paramilitary forces. The Disturbed Area Act derives its powers from the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

When did it lose that status?

On September 19, the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed both notifications, overruling resistance from the Chandigarh Administration. In fact, soon after the court order, UT Administrator-cum-Punjab Governor Shivraj V Patil addressed the media and tried to justify the need to continue with the disturbed area tag on Chandigarh.

Who are the leaders still in Burail Jail?

Of the 700 prisoners in Model Jail, Burail (capacity 1,000), three are serving sentences in connection with the 1995 assassination of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh. Nine Babbar Khalsa International had initially been arrested; one has escaped while the rest have either completed their terms or been shifted to othet jails.


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