| SUCI demonstrators stormed the Writers’ Buildings security cordon in a surprise swoop on Tuesday afternoon. They fought a pitched battle with the police in front of the seat of governance, disrupting city centre traffic for hours. The activists were protesting the hike in public transport fares. Picture by Pabitra Das
Traffic became immobile in BBD Bag on Tuesday afternoon, when SUCI supporters fought a pitched battle with the police in front of Writers’ Buildings during a rally to protest the hike in bus, minibus and taxi fares.
The SUCI activists hurled stones at the police, snatched lathis from them and beat them up. In a free-for-all that continued for nearly half an hour, an assistant commissioner of police was slapped, and some supporters tried to snatch deputy commissioner of police (reserve force) Ranvir Kumar's baton. Twenty-four persons were arrested and 14 policemen injured.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could not take his usual route home for lunch.
Around 1 pm, about 100 slogan-shouting SUCI supporters approached the secretariat from the Reserve Bank of India-end and took the police by surprise. As some policemen rushed towards the west gate to hold the SUCI supporters at bay, another group of about 100 SUCI activists targeted the force manning the central gate.
Unable to contain the activists, the police resorted to a lathicharge and dragged several of them into a prison van. Another group of activists, who marched towards Writers’ from the Lalbazar side, blocked the van's passage. About eight arrested supporters inside it kicked open the door and jumped out.
At one point of time, it appeared as if the situation would spin out of hand, with the police force present at Writers’ outnumbered. Even after the lathicharge, SUCI activists repeatedly regrouped and attacked the policemen. Around 1.15 pm, the entire stretch from the Reserve Bank to Lalbazar and the areas in front of Stephen House on one side and Tea Board on the other, turned into a battle field.
The SUCI activists snatched lathis from several policemen before they could realise what was happening. A number of policemen beat up the protesters with their shields made of cane. Activists lay on the road in front of the secretariat. Policewomen hesitated to tackle them.
Peak afternoon traffic was severely disrupted in the BBD Bag area. Vehicles stood still along BBD Bag (West) and those bound for places like Bowbazar and Great Eastern Hotel were stuck for over 15 minutes. West-bound vehicles along BB Ganguly Street were stalled owing to the clash near Tea Board and in front of the secretariat's eastern gate. The situation returned to normal after 1.30 pm.