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Sleuths quiz CPM village head

Nandigram, Dec. 1: The CBI today questioned a Nandigram panchayat head accused of involvement in the March 14 firing, making the first move to bring local CPM leaders under the scanner.

The interrogation comes a day before governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi is scheduled to visit the war-torn villages to carry out his own inspection.

A team of six officials, led by CBI superintendent Sijit Pande, came to the office of the Sonachura No. 10 gram panchayat around 3.30 this afternoon and spent an hour with Lakshman Mandal, the pradhan.

They asked Mondal where he was on March 14, the day police firing killed 14 people. They also wanted to know the annual income and expenditures of the panchayat.

According to CBI sources, Mandal’s questioning follows allegations by several Sonachura residents that the village head had “pressured” police to open fire and ordered his “armed” followers to give them a hand.

“Mandal was examined to clarify certain things concerning March 14. We will meet other CPM leaders whose names had appeared after the firing,” a CBI official said.

Mandal, however, insisted that the sleuths interacted with him “informally”.

“They wanted to know where I was on March 14. I told them that I had been forced to leave home on February 22 by members of the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee. I was at my sister’s house in Khejuri on that day (March 14),” he said.

Mandal said the CBI asked him about the strength of his party in the panchayat body. In 2003, the CPM and its allies had won nine out of the 13 seats.

The panchayat leader told the sleuths that though he was appointed panchayat pradhan in 2003, he was yet to become a party member. “I told them about my political activities and the work done by the civic body for the development of the area,” Mandal said.

The CBI today completed questioning the families of those killed on March 14. “Now our primary job is to collect statements from others,” an official said, adding that the policemen involved in the firing would be quizzed shortly.

“We know the police will try to defend themselves. So before interacting with them, we want to be armed with villagers’ statements,” he said.

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