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Arson stalls traffic

Dhubri, Oct. 24: The Koch-Rajbongshi rebellion in Assam over denial of Scheduled Tribe status turned violent last night with arsonists targeting traffic on three of the national highways criss-crossing the Lower Assam districts.

An autorickshaw was set ablaze and windowpanes of buses and trucks in transit were shattered at several places as the 300-hour road blockade by the All Koch-Rajbongshi Students’ Union entered the eighth day.

The union has been blocking NH 31, 31(B) and 31(C) in Bongaigaon, Goalpara, Kokrajhar and Dhubri districts since October 17 to pressure Delhi into granting ST status to the Koch-Rajbongshis. The community is also campaigning for “Kamatapur”, a state that it wants carved out of North Bengal and Assam.

The blockade is till 10am on October 29.

Police said blockade enforcers threw stones at night buses and trucks crossing Talguri, damaging windowpanes and windshields. The autorickshaw was set ablaze at Chowraguri, under Bijni police station. A truck was partially charred at Garukabari in Bongaigaon district.

Some members of the Chilarai Sena and the Bongaigaon women’s unit of the students’ union were arrested today for traffic obstruction. A CRPF team used mild force to disperse groups of activists at other places along the national highways.

Although train services were normal, passengers alighting at Cooch Behar in Bengal and Bongaigaon, Fakiragram, Basugaon, Kokrajhar, Salakati and other stations on the Assam side were stranded at the stations.

The Assam State Transport Corporation and private operators suspended all bus services between Dhubri and Cooch Behar. Only a few buses ferried passengers between Dhubri and Bilasipara throughout the day.

The president of the Inter-state Carriage Owners’ Association, Dhruba Kumar Sen, said it did not make sense to continue bus services in the face of aggression by bandh enforcers. As many as 25 buses registered with the association ply between Dhubri and Cooch Behar on a normal day.

Sen said a request to the Dhubri administration to provide police escorts for buses between Dhubri and Boxirhat did not elicit any response. “That forced us to suspend bus services.”

Only a few ASTC buses have been plying between Dhubri and Siliguri since Monday with police escorts. “We have put three buses on the road instead of the regular 12. These buses ply between Guwahati and Dhubri, Bilasipara and Siliguri,” the station superintendent of the ASTC, Azizul Hoque Bhuyan, said.

Police personnel have been stationed at the Boxirhat inter-state checkpoint to escort buses bound for Siliguri and Guwahati.

The ASTC has been incurring losses amounting to Rs 20,000 per day because of the blockade.

The president of the Biswajit faction of Dhubri unit of the All Koch-Rajbongshi Students’ Union, Chandan Kumar Roy, said the blockade “has been successful so far”.

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