Bhangar violence: Protesters smash cars, continue road blockades

Kolkata Jan 18 (IANS) Angry protesters damaged cars and continued road blockades on Wednesday in several villages of West Bengal’s Bhangar II block, the scene of 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 Bhabani Bhavan to assess the situation. Senior Criminal Investigation Department officers were also present.

The opposition held the police and the state administration responsible for the deaths, but the ruling Trinamool blamed outsiders, claiming the police did not fire a single shot.

The police confirmed the death toll was two, but refused to say whether the fatalities were due to bullets fired by the security forces.

“Yes, two persons have died,” South 24 Parganas Police Superintendent Sunil Chowdhury confirmed. 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 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 to stop the police from re-entering the villages. Sporadic incidents of violence were reported.

“The agitators are still blocking the road at various places. Some cars were smashed inside the village. Police are unable to enter but we are keeping an eye on the situation,” an Bhangor police station officer said.

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 inhabitant 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 declared on Tuesday night 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.

Meanwhile, the state opposition seized on the opportunity to embarrass the state government.

State Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury visited the houses of the two dead villagers and demanded a judicial enquiry and CBI probe into the “killings”.

Left Front heavyweights, including CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, condemned the “police firing on farmers” and urged the state government to “stop using force against protesters”.

Left Front leaders Sujan Chakraborty and Mohammad Selim also went to the violence-hit area and strongly criticised the role of the police.

Chakraborty termed the Bhangar developments as “state terrorism” and “war against villagers” and said the peasants were fighting against “land sharks”.

However, Trinamool Vice President Mukul Roy rubbished the allegations against the police.

“Police hasn’t fired a single bullet. Outsiders who came to the spot to instigate violence shot the people. The way police was attacked yesterday, there would have been major issues if the (previous) Left government was at the helm,” said Roy.