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Coal crash kills mobile cops

Muraligach (Bidhannagar), Feb. 20: In a freak accident, four police personnel and the driver of their jeep were crushed to death when a trailer truck toppled on the parked vehicle with its load of coal.

The incident occurred around 2.30 am today near the Muraligach check post on National Highway 31, some 45 km south of Siliguri. The spot is just about 10 km from where chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee inaugurated a food processing plant in the Bidhannagar gram panchayat area later in the day.

Assistant sub-inspector Rakhal Roy, police constables Bidhan Chowdhury and Dhiren Saha, home guard Haralal Guha, and the driver Biswanath Ghosh died on spot. All five were posted at the Bidhannagar outpost under Phansidewa police station. They were patrolling the highway at night and were reportedly checking out a tanker when the accident took place.

The police jeep was parked off the highway facing Siliguri while the tanker, heading towards Islampur, was also parked on the opposite kerb of the highway. A 10-wheeler truck from Assam going southwards tried to negotiate the narrow passage between the two vehicles, but lost balance and toppled onto the jeep with its full load of coal after its right wheels dipped into the lower-level flank of the road. The occupants of the jeep died instantly. The bodies were extricated only after the jeep was pulled out of the heap with the help of a crane and taken to the Bidhannagar police investigation centre, 3 km away.

The police version and that of the residents, who rushed to the scene after the accident, differ as to what the jeep was doing there, parked at the spot.

If Gobinda Sarkar, a resident, is to be believed, the accident took place while the police were extorting money from the oil tanker, stopping it on the highway near Muraligach Check Post. The coal-laden truck (NL 02D 9071) lost control while passing through the narrow gap and fell sideways onto the police's mobile patrol vehicle (WB 02H 1799), crushing it flat.

The police have denied that the patrol had stopped to extort money. Assistant sub-inspector Shyamal Pal, who had reached the spot on hearing of the accident, said the police jeep had emerged from a petrol pump nearby when the accident took place.

Around 8 am, additional superintendent of police Kallol Ganai arrived at the investigation centre from Siliguri and inquired into the details. It took him hardly 10 minutes, after which he spoke to reporters. Ganai described the incident as a 'mere accident'. Asked whether he would order an inquiry to find out what exactly happened, Ganai retorted: 'All inquiries are over, and the allegation that they were extorting money when the accident occurred is baseless.'

Residents, however, claimed that one of the constables, Bidhan Chowdhury, was still holding onto some notes when his body was extricated from the jeep.

Ranjit Deb, the owner of a roadside dhaba, alleged that the mobile police team had also visited his eatery last night and extorted Rs, 2,000 from him. Ganai, however, did not respond when he was reminded of Deb's allegation.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the state government would give compensations to the families of all the five accident victims.

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