Malda, Nov. 8: Two policemen were injured and their jeeps smashed this morning, when forces from Kaliachak police station went to Meghutola to rescue a ration dealer from the hands of angry villagers.
In the evening, a food inspector was beaten up in Noorpur, 40km from here, while on an inspection of the ration shops. His car too was not spared.
Among the injured in Meghutola is Sanjay Ghosh, the officer-in-charge of the police station.
Trouble started at 10am, when around 200 residents of Meghutola, 45km from here, raided the ration shop of Hemantalal Sarkar. They not only looted cash and stocked items, but also ransacked Sarkar’s house.
The police arrival one-and-a half-hours later infuriated the villagers even more. They started hurling stones at the policemen, even attacking them with sticks. Ghosh and a home guard suffered head injuries.
The officer-in-charge said his men — there were 14 of them in two jeeps — had exercised considerable restraint. “Had it been otherwise, we would have fired, such was the crowd,” said Sarkar.
According to Ghosh, villagers headed by Hazi Mohammed Sheikh, Anarul Sheikh and Fekon Sheikh went to Sarkar’s ration shop and demanded a “compensation” of Rs 2, 000 for each ration card holder. Recently, a rumour has been doing the rounds in Kaliachak and Ratua blocks that the government was paying Rs 2,000 to each ration card holder affected by the 1998 floods, when water had entered even Malda town.
Sarkar said he was in his shop when the three men barged in. “I told them on the face that I would not give in to their illogical demand. An altercation started and a huge crowd gathered. Suddenly they started looting the shop.”
When the police arrived and arrested four villagers, the crowd started hurling stones at the police. The two jeeps standing nearby were also not spared.
“It has become difficult making people in Kaliachak and Ratua believe that the ‘compensation’ is actually a rumour. As a result, one after another, the ration dealers are being attacked. We are trying to identify the mischief mongers,” said a senior intelligence official.
District food controller Nilkomal Saha said police camps have been set up in the villages in these two blocks. “But this is of little comfort to the ration dealers. They are scared of lifting their quota of foodgrain,” Saha said.
“We have invited complaints from consumers against the corrupt ration dealers. But as things stand now it has become more of a law and order problem,” he added.
According to the food controller, the licences of 23 ration dealers have been cancelled on charges of indulging in corrupt practices.