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Talks fail, call to cops for roads

Nandigram/Calcutta, Jan. 22: Tired of trying to convince villagers opposed to the repair of roads, the administration today sought police help here to launch an exercise to restore them.

Four roads leading to Nandigram, about 150 km from Calcutta, were dug up in at least 30 places and concrete slabs leading to bridges were removed by the villagers on the night of January 3 to prevent police from entering the villages.

Seven people were killed in a gun battle between villagers opposed to and supporting land acquisition for industries on January 7.

“We are fed up with calling meetings that are boycotted on one pretext or the other. At least half-a-dozen meetings were planned with the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee to discuss the repair of roads. It skipped all of them. Now, we don’t want meetings with any party,” Haldia subdivisional officer Shankar Haldar said.

District magistrate Anup Agarwal will soon call a meeting with members of the Kalicharanpur, Sonachura and Kendamari panchayats, the Nandigram panchayat samiti and the zilla parishad as well as the local MLA, a CPI leader.

A CPI delegation, however, met land minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah in Calcutta and said the party supports the Nandigram agitation. “What happened there was not violence, it was the fury of farmers scared of losing their land,” Midnapore MP Probodh Panda said.

“I am ready to talk to anybody under the sun” to clear the air on the industrialisation drive, the chief minister said again at a chamber of commerce meeting today.

Haldar said that to ensure the villagers’ cooperation for the repair work and restore peace, the administration had assured their leaders that the police would not harass them or make arbitrary arrests.

“We have kept our word. But some political parties have not. Most villagers want the roads and bridges repaired but some of their leaders want the tension to prevail,” the subdivisional officer added.

The economy of Nandigram is in a shambles because of the damaged roads and closed ferry services.

Farmers and cattle owners here depend to a large extent on the residents of Haldia town for a living. Until the violence erupted, they ferried fish, coconut, vegetables and poultry across the Haldi and did business worth Rs 2 lakh a day, officials said.

Inspector-general of police (western range) Arun Gupta said the administration would be provided security to restore the roads and bridges. “If we see that a handful of villagers are trying to create trouble for selfish reasons, we will deal with it firmly.”

“But if a majority doesn’t want the roads repaired, we will exercise restraint and avoid any confrontation as far as possible,” he added.

The committee said the administration was inviting trouble. “The villagers don’t want road repairs. They want the government to say there will be no land acquisition in Nandigram,” said Sheikh Sufian, a Trinamul Congress leader.

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