July 22: Police and extremists played a cat-and-mouse game on the first day of the 48-hour Jharkhand bandh, called by the Maoist Communist Centre to protest against the death sentence handed out to three of its activists by a lower court in Hazaribagh.
As anticipated, MCC activists targeted railway cabins, signal systems and the tracks even as security agencies struggled to keep passenger trains moving. With the government and the MCC trying to outwit each other, highways were hit hard and road traffic came to a standstill.
An explosion was reported from Patratu when extremists tried to stop a contingent of policemen rushing to rescue detained railway staff near Chhapar railway halt. Bandh supporters there had blown off a section of the railway track as well.
A brief encounter later, the police managed to break through. Another encounter was reported in the evening from Dhania (Bokaro).
A third encounter was reported between CRPF jawans and the extremists from Barihatu near Bundu on the Ranchi-Jamshedpur highway. A CRPF sub-inspector, Baishakha Singh, was hit by a bullet on his chest and died on way to hospital, Ranchi senior superintendent of police M.V. Rao said. Singh was heading the CRPF contingent.
Yet another clash was reported from Bishrampur in Palamau. Palamau, along with Giridih and Hazaribagh, was the worst affected as shops and petrol outlets too shut down in many places.
Routes of several trains were diverted to avoid Naxalite strongholds. As a result, Palamau and Garhwa were the worst affected as barring a few goods trains, no train touched the two districts. Railway employees deserted several remote cabins and signal posts while bandh supporters locked them up at a few places, prompting police to rush to their rescue. This in turn fuelled rumours of “encounters” at different places.
Additional director-general of police J.B. Mohapatra said all possible steps had been taken to check violence. A pilot engine carrying security forces was escorting important trains, he claimed.
Armed MCC supporters broke through the security ring and stormed at least five railway stations on the CIC section of Dhanbad division of East Central Railway after Monday midnight. Train movement was completely paralysed.
The “heavily armed” extremists assaulted railway employees posted at the three railway stations — Kumandi, Bendi and Hehegarha — and forced them to vacate the premises. They also raided the outer cabins of these railway stations and forced the staff out. The extremists themselves took possession of the vital installations at the railway stations. Panic stricken railway employees fled to safety as the extremists threatened them.