Bhangar tense, as protesters continue road blockades

Kolkata Jan 18 (IANS) Tension was palpable and protests continued on Wednesday in several villages of West Bengal’s Bhangar II block, which saw large-scale violence since Monday over “forcible” land acquisition for a Power Grid Corporation of India project.

In the metropolis, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held a high level meeting at the state police headquarters Bhawani Bhavan with senior officers to assess the situation and prevent any recurrence of violence. Senior Criminal Investigation Department officers were also present.

The police confirmed that the death toll stood at two, but refused to say whether the deaths were due to bullets fired by the security forces.

“Yes, two persons have died. But we can’t give you any more details,” said a police officer. The police had on Tuesday confirmed only one death.

Villagers in the South 24 Parganas district block had dug roads and felled tree trunks to obstruct the security forces, and fought pitched battle with police when they tried to enter the core conflict zones, including Padmapukur and Machi Bhanga. The police were forced to beat a retreat and a number of uniformed personnel sustained injuries.

On Wednesday, the entry points of Padmapukur village was still barricaded with piled up bricks and tree trunks.

According to villagers, at least six men are missing since Tuesday’s clash and several others have sustained serious injuries.

“Who will take responsibility of the two men who were shot dead yesterday. Also six people from our village are missing since Tuesday evening. We want an answer from the government,” an angry resident of Padmapukur village said.

A large number of anti-land acquisition activists gathered on the adjoining Haora road demanding the Chief Minister’s intervention in the issue.

“We want our Chief Minister ‘Didi’ (elder sister, as Banerjee is affectionately called) to come to Bhangar and assure us that no power grid would be built here. Our agitation would continue till then,” a group of protesters said.

Bhangar, known for its history of political violence, is on the boil since last week over ‘forced’ acquisition of 16 acres of farmland — spread over the villages of Khamarait, Machhi Bhanga, Tona and Padmapukur — by the state government for the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL).

On Wednesday, stones were pelted at the police convoy from all directions. A police van was torched while at least three police vehicles were pushed into a pond by the mob, police said.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee came up with statements on Tuesday night declaring that the power grid would not be built in the region.

“No land will be acquired if people don’t want to give away land. The proposed power grid will be relocated if required,” Banerjee tweeted after the incident.

Meanwhile, state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury went to the house of the two villagers who lost their lives.