A bulldozer razes a house in the slum on Thursday. (Srinivas)
Jamshedpur, March 31: The anti-encroachment campaign along Marine Drive was suspended soon after it began today while 5,000 angry slum dwellers fought a pitched battle with police and RAF personnel at flashpoint Ramjanam Nagar, one of the 23 slums hindering completion of the arterial Adityapur toll bridge project.
According to a section of officials and leaders, the bulldozers came to a grinding halt following a tacit directive from the capital around noon. However, the chief secretary’s office denied any such order.
Ramjanam Nagar, the epicentre of a raging controversy over the eviction drive to make way for the toll plaza, erupted around 11am, when the demolition brigade, escorted by a posse of policemen — and a bunch of politicians — reached the spot. Already simmering with resentment, residents turned livid at the sight of the forces and began pelting stones. Police and RAF jawans retaliated — first with stones, then with water cannons and tear gas shells, and finally with lathis.
Sources in the police said some 20 tear gas shells were lobbed but that failed to quell the fiery protests, spurring a mild baton-charge.
Dhalbhum SDO Sunil Kumar Sinha said at least 50 people, including some half a dozen policemen, were injured in the clash.
Meanwhile, bulldozers and earthmovers targeted the 330 unauthorised homes along the Kadma-Mango stretch in the presence of additional deputy commissioner Vijay Kumar Sinha, additional district magistrate (law and order) Vijay Kumar Singh, city SP Jatin Narwal and SDO Sinha.
However, around 1pm, the additional deputy commissioner called off the drive. The SDO claimed the operation was postponed for a day since the administration felt that the settlers should be given a chance to respond to the order to vacate homes on their own.
But an official said the government had intervened. “It is ready to pay any amount as penalty but will not allow bustee dwellers to be forcibly driven out of their homes. It wants them to vacate homes as per their convenience,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
BJP state president Dineshanand Goswami seconded him. He claimed the demolition work was postponed at the behest of chief secretary S.K. Chowdhury. The latter denied the same.
Interestingly, after the situation returned to normal, Congress legislator Banna Gupta and the party’s state president Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu reached the spot and courted arrest, demanding land for rehabilitating the evictees.