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No arrests yet, plea to reopen tea estate

Jorhat, Dec. 28: Fear of the law and order situation getting worse has kept the police from making any arrest in the brutal murder of Konapathar tea estate owner Mridul Kumar Bhattacharjee and his wife Reeta even after 48 hours although the key culprits are said to have been identified.

In the meantime, Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the apex body of workers has appealed to the administration to reopen the garden in Tinsukia district.

Sources in the chief minister’s office and in the district said there was no interference from any quarter vis-à-vis investigation of the case as the culprits had been identified but the police needed “some more time” to carry out the arrest to avoid another law and order situation in the area which remains tense.

They said the “main instigator”, who brought petrol and handed it to the mob that set two bungalows ablaze, had been identified and efforts were on to arrest him. Once the main accused is arrested, the other culprits will also be apprehended. A close watch is being kept on them to ensure they don’t flee the district. The police are treading cautiously as carrying out random arrests could spell trouble. “They want things to cool off,” a source said, adding that the ideal situation to carry out the arrests would be when the garden reopens. They did not reveal the identity or background of the culprits.

Tinsukia superintendent of police P.P. Singh told The Telegraph that investigations were in full swing, many of the accused had been identified and would be arrested soon. Denying that police were going slow in the case, he said they have recorded the statement of the assistant manager of the garden, T. Ahmed, who also spoke before senior district and police officials at Pengeri police station last night. A case has been registered on the basis of an FIR lodged by the police and one lodged by the estate through Ahmed. The magisterial inquiry into the incident has started with Margherita circle officer Bipul Das recording Ahmed’s statement today.

Sources said Dispur was not rushing with the arrests because it did not want to antagonise the politically influential tea community, more so with the panchayat election round the corner as the community has a decisive role in 36 of the 126 Assembly seats.

The community has condemned the incident but has also asked the authorities to go into the reason that triggered the incident. “The government is under pressure because if any innocent is arrested it may add fuel to fire. Had the government been alert to the problems faced by the workers of the estate and in general, things would not have come to such a pass,” a tea community leader said, indicating the mood within the community.

ACMS general secretary Dileshwar Tanti said from Dibrugarh that the organisation would never support violence. It wants the culprits to be brought to book and settlement of problems through peaceful means. He said the Margherita unit of the ACMS was in touch with the administration and had requested it to urge the garden owner’s family to reopen the estate.

Margherita ACMS secretary Hari Nandan Gour said the administration had told him that after Bhattacharjee’s funeral in Tinsukia tomorrow, it would talk to his family. The workers have also expressed their desire to cooperate with the management to resume work and were guarding garden assets. A.N. Singh, chairman of Consultative Committee of Plantation Association, condemned the killings. He urged the government to take strong steps to prevent recurrence of such an incident.


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