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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Minister & men in right-of-way rage report

Malda, Dec. 22: A state transport bus driver has named civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee, his driver and security guard in a police complaint, saying they assaulted him on National Highway 34 this morning claiming he was not giving right of way to the VIP's vehicle.

Bijoy Karmakar's complaint is accompanied by signatures of 20 passengers who were on the North Bengal State Transport Corporation bus headed for Raigunj.

The driver was taken to a health centre at Moulpur in Old Malda, from where he was referred to the district hospital here.

Karmakar said he felt his left shin bone break under the blows rained on him by the minister's driver and guard to teach him a lesson. He claimed he could not walk.

Ajit Kumar Mallick, one of the doctors at the health centre who attended to him, said: 'It is difficult to say without an X-ray whether any bone is broken. But there is definitely a possibility of a crack in his shin bone.'

Witnesses said the minister looked the other way when Karmakar was being battered.

The incident sparked protests by the passengers of the bus as well as drivers of passing NBSTC buses. Together, they held up traffic at the site, near Kualdighi, 8 km from Malda town, for over two hours. They were dispersed by a baton charge ordered by circle inspector Neelkamal Mukherjee.

The CPI leader's driver has filed a counter complaint against Karmakar at Gajole police station. 'The driver of the bus was driving recklessly, so we decided to caution him. We had narrowly escaped an accident. There might have been a scuffle inside the bus. Some of the passengers had turned threatening, so we left and my driver lodged a complaint,' said Mukherjee, MLA from Itahar in North Dinajpur, on phone from Raigunj.

According to sources, the minister was travelling to Raiganj from Malda with his family. The passengers said around eight in the morning, a Tata Sumo began honking continuously for right of way. It tried overtaking several times and when it finally did, the driver stopped the car in front of the bus.

Two men emerged, opened the driver's door and struck him with sticks. The duo then climbed on board and started raining blows and kicks on Karmakar.

As some of the passengers rushed to stop the driver and security guard of the minister, others ran to the minister, asking him to rein in his men.

After a heated argument with the passengers, Mukherjee drove away. The passengers said they left Karmakar writhing in pain.

'We cannot believe a minister can act in this manner, it is shocking. We saw the entire episode and if there is a need, we will stand up as witnesses. The driver of the bus was not at fault,' said passenger Ranjit Kumar Nag.

Lying at the health centre, Karmakar said: 'I could not give way to the Sumo because of the bad road. I did stick out my hand, indicating to the car to wait for a while. When they crossed us, the driver pulled up in front of the bus and then I was beaten up with lathis.'

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