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Firing glare on ‘power shift’
- Complaints of direct contact with cops sidelining civil administration

Calcutta, Nov. 14: The alleged police firing at Tehatta that killed one person has given Opposition parties the chance to dub police “trigger-happy” amid murmurs of cops assuming more power than the civil administration since the change of guard at Writers’.

Only an independent inquiry can reveal the reasons that may have led Shailesh, the Tehatta subdivisional police officer (SDPO) to allegedly fire at a mob, but Opposition parties said chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who also holds the home portfolio, would have to shoulder responsibility for the death. A magisterial probe has been ordered.

In the past 18 months, five persons are reported to have died in four instances of alleged police firing.

“The police force is trigger-happy and they don’t know how to handle a mob situation. The chief minister has to take responsibility for the death of a protester,” said Rahul Sinha, the state BJP president.

The trigger behind today’s protest was the administration’s apparent refusal to grant permission to a club to organise a Jagaddhatri puja on a plot in Tehatta. The protesters had called a bandh in the area and staged a roadblock.

Senior Nadia administration officials, however, said they did not deny permission and had only requested the organisers to shift the puja to another plot, three times bigger than the one the club had identified.

What the administration had done to resolve the problem, however, was swept away as Congress and CPM leaders echoed Sinha as they prepared to launch a fresh attack on the government for its “failure” to handle law and order problems.

The Telegraph has learnt that subdivisional officer (SDO) Sudipto Chakraborty, who had been speaking with local clubs on shifting the puja venue, was not present at the spot when a police team went to lift the blockade.

“Either Chakraborty or other officers of the district’s civil administration should have played a bigger role in negotiations with the protesters to avoid a flare-up,” a senior government official said.

CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb, who led a party team to Nadia headquarters Krishnagar this evening, said the firing was “unnecessary” and blamed “lack of planning” by the police for the loss of life. The CPM has decided to hold a series of protests in the Tehatta subdivision, where the party retained all three Assembly seats — Tehatta, Karimpur and Palashipara — in last year’s polls.

The Congress also criticised the government, smelling an opportunity to corner Mamata and question the role of the police force — a department directly under the chief minister.

“The chief minister has more faith in the police force than the civil administration that comprises the district magistrate, the SDO, down to the level of the block development officer. She interacts directly with police officers and often the civil administration is not in the loop. This has created confusion,” said an official.

The role of the civil administration in the Tehatta incident could not be independently verified, but senior government officials told this newspaper that the power of the police had increased vis-a-vis their counterparts in the civil administration.

The officials said it was an open secret at Writers’ that Mamata kept in touch with a section of senior police officers over text messages. These officers apparently inform the chief minister about incidents under their jurisdiction and take orders from her directly, bypassing the home secretary and the chief secretary.

“An able administrator has to follow the rules of administration. Ad-hocism is creating problems, which will increase as the police alone cannot tackle tricky issues,” a senior IAS officer said.

Had the civil administration got the opportunity to tackle flare-ups in Tehatta, Loba in Bibhum, Mograhat in South 24-Parganas and Bogula in Nadia, the outcome could have been different, the officer added.

Lobal residents had alleged that the police had fired at land protesters demanding higher prices for their plots last week. In Mograhat, a 14-year-old girl and a woman were killed in alleged police firing on villagers protesting snapping of power connections last December. On October 7 last year, the police allegedly opened fire during a clash over idol immersion in Bogula.

In all three cases, the government had denied the allegations of firing. In Tehatta, the government said, the police fired in “self-defence”.

“The police should have taken intelligence feedback on the kind of resistance they had the chance of facing and taken adequate preparations,” an official said.