As word got out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to travel by road to the National Martyrs’ Memorial at Hussainiwala in Ferozepur district on January 5 from Bhatinda, a distance of over 100 km, one of the farm unions that was on way to the district commissioner’s (DC) office to protest, mobilised more people forcing the cavalcade to stop and return, a senior government official said.
Mr. Modi’s motorcade was stranded on a flyover for 15-20 minutes in plain sight.
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A statement by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Wednesday said the Prime Minister was to reach the memorial by a helicopter but due to bad weather it was decided he would travel by road “which would take more than two hours.” A rally that he was to address later in the day at Ferozepur was cancelled.
The Prime Minister’s itinerary shared by the Punjab Congress on Twitter said that he was to leave the Bhatinda airport in an MI-17 helicopter at 10.30 a.m. and arrive at the Kila Chowk helipad in Ferozepur by 11.05 a.m. The cavalcade was to then take a 10-minute drive to the memorial.
On Wednesday, President of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Krantikaari) Surjeet Singh Phul told The Hindu that it was the members of their outfit who were protesting on the Ferozepur-Moga stretch against the Prime Minister’s visit.
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On Thursday, Mr. Phul posted a video on Twitter, where he said there were around 1,000 people who were on way to the DC’s office when they were stopped by the police around 10.30 a.m. “Some BJP supporters also came and accosted us, soon the gathering swelled to more than 2,000 people. We did not intend to stop his cavalcade, we were going to the DC’s office, but when we were stopped we had no option but to wait there… whatever happened there was spontaneous, there was no pre-planning, when we affected a jam, Prime Minister was caught in it,” he stated.
A senior government official said the Prime Minister took National Highway 54 and it was the responsibility of the State police to sanitise the route. On January 4, the Punjab administration, during detailed discussions with the Special Protection Group had conducted a contingency rehearsal for the Bhatinda-Ferozepur road route. “The previous night [January 4], protestors gathered on various points but the police asked them to return, they came back the next morning,” said the official.
Mr. Phul told The Hindu on Thursday that they had picketed the main roads and highways leading to Ferozepur. “We we were stopping BJP supporters and telling them to use the unpaved tracks, we did this because they had stopped us from going to Delhi [for farmers protest],” he said.
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As per Blue Book of the SPG, an armed force that exclusively provides proximate security cover to the Prime Minister, all the lateral access points on the route should be barricaded and secured by the police.
The SPG Act was enacted in 1988 to provide for the constitution and regulation of the SPG as an armed force to provide proximate security to the Prime Minister and his/her immediate family members. The Act was amended in 1991, 1994, 1999 and 2003 to extend the cover to former Prime Ministers and their immediate family members for different periods of demitting office. In 2019, the Act was amended again to provide proximate security by the SPG only to the Prime Minister and his immediate family members residing with him at his official residence. Presently, Mr. Modi is the only individual protected by the SPG. Its budget in fiscal 2021-22 is Rs. 429 crore.
The Prime Minister last travelled by road from Delhi to Meerut on January 3, a journey of over 45 minutes. The U.P. police had issued advisory and alerted people about the traffic diversions.
The MHA has sought a report from Punjab on the security lapse but till Thursday, no report has been received.