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We did what minister asked: Cops

Calcutta, Nov. 8: Police officers, stung by the crackdown on the force after the clash in Birbhum, have said their colleagues executed with alacrity a court order to extricate an earth mover because a minister had been asking them to do so.

Sources in the district police, who requested anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the media, said they were not blaming anyone but were putting matters in perspective because of repeated assertions at Writers’ Buildings that appeared to point fingers at the local force.

At least 30 people were injured — some suffered alleged bullet wounds — after 6,000 villagers demanding higher price for land thwarted a police team that tried to implement the court order on Tuesday at 4am. The court had said on Monday that the police should free the excavator, in the custody of the villagers in Loba since December.

The police sources said industries minister Partha Chatterjee had been asking Rishikesh Meena, the SP who has been removed after the clash, for the past one month to get the machine released. The excavator belongs to the Emta Group, which is buying land for a coal-mining venture to feed the DVC’s power projects.

The sources said the minister’s requests were the primary reason why the court order was enforced swiftly, although an intelligence branch report two days before the judicial directive had said an operation would lead to violence.

Minister Chatterjee, however, denied having given any instructions to Meena. “I did not issue any instructions. My department did not issue any orders. The government had not issued any orders. Is this our job? Investigations are on. My conversations can also be verified. After the investigation is completed, everything will be exposed,” Chatterjee said.

Officer Meena was not available for comment. Late tonight, he changed his Facebook profile from “SP Birbhum” to “Rishikesh Meena, IPS” and said in a post: “I have moved on to a different posting…”.

Local administration sources said that in August, Chatterjee had visited Suri and held a meeting with the SP and the district magistrate to sort out the matter.

The minister then proceeded to Dubrajpur, the police station area in which Loba falls, to persuade the villagers but he returned empty-handed, the sources said.

“We clearly told him (Chatterjee) that we were not against the business venture in the area. We made it clear that we want a revised compensation package and he assured us,” said Asish Gorai of Polashdanga village.

The police sources said Chatterjee started contacting Meena over the phone since September. Meena, however, kept putting off the issue: at first citing the law and order situation and, then, the Durga Puja.“Meena knew that the situation in Dubrajpur was fragile. So, he did not want to risk any police operation there,” an officer said. “Finally, when the pressure kept mounting, the SP told the minister that he would not like to take any action before the festive season.”

When the Birbhum district court gave its order on Monday, Chatterjee spoke to Meena and cited the order.

Meena briefed his superiors — DIG, Burdwan range, Basab Talukdar; and IG, western range, Gangeswar Singh. After getting their nod, a strategy meeting of officers of 13 police stations was convened on November 4.

The DIG asked Meena to get a requisition from DVC-Emta. Once it arrived on November 5, the IG and the DIG gave the go-ahead. According to sources in Calcutta today, the government has mooted the transfer of Talukdar.

An official at Writers’ said: “Ideally, the government should have moved a higher court citing the IB report and the ground situation.”

Emta said the company’s senior officials were in regular touch with Chatterjee since he is the industries minister. “He is very sincere in his efforts to ensure that the open-cast coal mining project takes off,” said Bikash Mukherjee, the chief executive officer.

Ujjal Upadhyay, the promoter of Emta, said tonight in response to a question: “He (Chatterjee) is the honourable minister and I have every right to go to the industries minister. If my machine is under the custody of some people illegally, is it not my duty to inform him?”

Asked if the minister had called the SP, Upadhyay said: “What he did is not my concern. If I am not getting justice, it is my duty to meet Partha Chatterjee the industries minister. If required, I will go to the honourable chief minister too….

“I don’t think anyone asked the minister to call up any police officer. My officers may have spoken to the minister. They wouldn’t have asked him to call the SP.”

He added: “The machine has been lying (idle) for a year; and if a machine is not used for a year, 50 per cent of its life would be gone. It was a brand new one. I have moved court for its release.”