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Pandal vandalised

A major clash between autorickshaw operators and puja organisers marred the festive spirit in Behala on Tuesday, home to more than 200 community pujas.

For nearly an hour, a group of auto operators ransacked the pandal of Vivekananda Park Athletic Club, on Mahatma Gandhi Road, Haridevpur, following an altercation with a passenger.

Twenty persons, including a child, were injured, two of them seriously, in the violence and club members and residents blocked the road for several hours.

Only one man has been arrested so far. First information reports have been filed against 20. 'A search is on to net the others involved in the violence,' said S.N. Gupta, superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas. There was tension in the area till late in the evening, and senior police officers visited the spot. A large contingent of police and Rapid Action Force personnel were deployed.

Trouble started around 4 pm, when the driver of an autorickshaw, plying from Tollygunge tram depot to Kabardanga, quarrelled with a passenger. The angry passenger got off the autorickshaw and went towards the Vivekanada Athletic Club pandal.

'The driver thought the passenger was a club member, called 30 fellow-drivers on the route and attacked the pandal,' said a police officer.

'The hoodlums attacked our pandal with iron rods and other weapons and ransacked it completely,' said Subhankar Saha, a club officer.

'They tore off the decorations, smashed the lights, chairs and tables,' he alleged.

About 20 office-bearers and club members at the pandal were severely beaten up by the hoodlums.

Two of them, Manash Mukherjee and Babu Burman, were admitted to MR Bangur Hospital with head injuries, police said. Even a child was not spared.

'This is the first time in 34 years that such an incident has occurred,' a club official said.

Visitors to the pandal were panic-stricken. 'Suddenly, we heard a group of rowdies shouting abuses and saw them running towards the pandal. Before we could take cover, they started breaking everything,' said Deepankar Basu, of south Calcutta, who was there with his family.

'Police were silent spectators,' a club official alleged.

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