The ditch in Jogta, Dhanbad, from where the bodies of the four schoolboys were fished out on Sunday. Picture by Gautam Dey
Sijua in Dhanbad district resembled a war zone — complete with brickbats and bullets — on Sunday as the bodies of four school students were fished out of a water-filled abandoned mine ditch and residents blamed police for delaying search for the children who went missing two days ago.
SP Ravi Kant Dhan said going by circumstantial evidence, it appeared that the four boys had drowned and there was no foul play. “But, the exact cause of death can be ascertained only after post-mortem. We will probe other angles,” he added.
Gaurav Kumar Singh (16), Rahul Sao (14), Rohit Sao (12) and Rohit Raj (11) were last seen playing near their homes in Angarpathra, 14km from Dhanbad town, on Friday evening. While Gaurav was a Class X student of Saraswati Vidya Mandir, Rohit Raj studied in Class VII of De Nobili-Sijua. Rahul and Rohit Sao both went to DAV Middle School in Katras. The former was a sixth grader and the latter was in Class V.
Around 2am on Sunday, divers recovered the body of Rohit Raj — the son of BCCL employee Chandrabhushan Prasad — from a pond in Jogta police station area, barely 2km from his home.
Tension ran high soon after the news of death spread. More than a thousand people blocked roads at Sijua More, Angarpathra and Naya More for hours from 7am, demanding a speedy mission to find the other three boys. They burnt tyres and blocked thoroughfares with tree trunks.
A bereaved Prasad and his relatives were not part of the agitation, but pitched for negligence probe against police, who, they claimed, did little to find the boys after a complaint was lodged on Saturday.
Later in the day, local divers from Ranguni bustee area of East Basuria were pressed into service to trace the other three children whose clothes were also found on the banks.
Their bodies were found around 4pm, which triggered a second round of clash between protesters and police. While the mob pelted stones and tried to take the bodies into custody, police fired five rounds in the air to quell the agitation. Four persons were injured in stone-pelting.
The protest gained political momentum when Tundi MLA Mathura Mahto, former JD(U) state president Jaleshwar Mahto, Katras president of BJP’s youth wing Ajit Singh and Katras town president of BJP Vinay Singh joined the demand for an inquiry into the incident.
A large contingent of police — led by Nirsa DSP Ezra Bodra, DSP (headquarters) R.N. Sharma and Baghmara DSP Sanjeev Kumar — prevented the mob of thousand at Naya More from going berserk. Dhanbad SDO Lal Mohan Mahto also camped at the site to contain the situation.
The JD(U) leader held the BCCL responsible for the deaths because the company did not fill up the deep mine pit, which had transformed into a pond over the years.
Baghmara MLA Dhullu Mahto accused police of inaction. “Had the men in uniform acted soon after the children went missing, they might have been alive today,” he said.
The SDO promised that a report on existing and unfilled mine ditches would be sent to deputy commissioner Prashant Kumar for further action.