Purulia, May 29: A gang of dacoits struck as a Ranchi-Siliguri bus made its way through a Purulia highway last night.
A few kilometres away, Bengal's top police officials were busy chalking out security arrangements on the eve of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's visit to the town.
The dacoits took away cash and jewellery worth about Rs 4 lakh from passengers.
The incident came minutes after another armed gang had waylaid the car of Forward Bloc MP from Purulia Birsingh Mahato. They had snatched his bodyguard's revolver and Rs 5,000 in cash at Duarsini village near Ayodhya Hills, 330 km from Calcutta. Last night's dacoity took place approximately 85 km away from Duarsini.
As the dacoits were cleaning up the passengers' purses, inspector-general of police (western range) Anil Kumar, deputy IG of Midnapore range Gangeswar Singh and Purulia superintendent of police R. Shivkumar were camping in the town, 25 minutes' drive away, along with a host of senior police officials.
Around 1,500 personnel had been deployed for Bhattacharjee's security.
Police said the gang of seven, posing as passengers, boarded the bus ' belonging to the North Bengal State Transport Corporation ' in Ranchi around 4 pm.
The chief minister, who touched down in Purulia for two hours this morning before leaving for Ranchi, took the same route as that of the bus.
When the vehicle reached Layek Dihi More in the Hura area of Purulia around 8.30 pm, the dacoits whipped out revolvers.
One of them went to driver Subhas Sharma and pressed the gun against his temple.
He forced the driver to take the bus off the main road and drive down a village path into a forest. There, they looted the passengers at gunpoint and assaulted some of them with the butts of revolvers when they tried to resist. The ordeal lasted over an hour.
The conductor of the bus, Mohammad Salauddin, said the dacoits pointed a revolver at his chest and took away Rs 1,400, a wristwatch and a gold ring from him.
'They made all the 48 passengers get down from the bus in the jungle. Then they ordered them to hand over their valuables,' he said.
Sharma said he realised that the bus had been taken over by dacoits when he felt the cold nozzle of the gun against his temple. 'The dacoits were speaking to each other in Hindi and Bengali. Then one of them hit me on my neck with the blunt side of a bhojali and ordered me to divert the bus through a village path towards the jungle,' he said.
'Three of us were travelling to Siliguri together. They took away Rs 6,000 in cash and our camera at gunpoint,' said Firsita Tirkey, a resident of Daltonganj.
When the dacoits fled around 9.30 pm, the passengers ran towards the nearest village and raised an alarm.
'The passengers were trembling with fright. They did not have food or water. We raised about Rs 750 and distributed the money to the passengers for buying food on the way,' said Nripen Kar, a resident of the village.
The bus left for Siliguri after passengers lodged a complaint with the police around 2 am today.
The superintendent of police said raids have been launched to nab the gangs responsible for both the highway and Duarsini incidents.