Lal Bahadur Lohar at the bomb site minutes before the blast in Alipurduar killed him on Thursday. Picture by Anirban Choudhury
Alipurduar, Aug. 29: A CID bomb squad member who was not wearing a protective suit died when the explosive he was called to defuse went off in Alipurduar this morning.
None of the four squad members was wearing the protective suit, a must for the task.
They were in civilian clothes, with a sleeveless jacket that had “CID West Bengal” written on it.
Police said they suspected the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), which had called a strike in Jalpaiguri district yesterday over its statehood demand, had planted the bomb.
Late in the evening, the police arrested Gouranga Roy, a resident of Mainaguri in Jalpaiguri district, on the suspicion of being linked to the blast.
The police did not say if Roy was a KLO member.
Police officers alleged that the four members of the bomb squad, who had gone from Siliguri about 130km away, were “fiddling around carelessly” with the explosive.
Around 3am today, some private security guards noticed a red-and-white bag dangling from an abandoned bicycle in the Chowpathy area, a busy crossing in Alipurduar town that has many shops.
Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Amit P. Javalgi said that on closer scrutiny, the guards found a can that was attached by a wire to a timepiece. The guards alerted the police.
“A police team reached the spot around 4.30am, removed the bag from the cycle using a long bamboo pole and moved the bag to an open field about 300m away from the shops,” Javalgi said.
The policemen put sandbags around the bag in the field.
They also cordoned off the field and informed the CID bomb squad in Siliguri, the only such team in north Bengal.
The four-member squad reached Alipurduar at 9.45am, according to district police chief.
After speaking to Javalgi, the team set upon the task of defusing the bomb.
At 10.10am, when one of the squad members, Lal Bahadur Lohar, was near the bag, the explosive went off, killing the 48-year-old constable on the spot.
The three other bomb squad members were injured.
All the injured have been admitted to hospital.
The police said the bomb squad was aware that the improvised explosive device had a timer attached to it.
The clock, attached with a piece of wire to the can, had been spotted by the private night guards and the matter had been reported by the local police to the bomb squad, the police said.
“It was obvious that the timer had been set and could have gone off any moment,” a Jalpaiguri police officer said.
“The bomb squad members should have been more cautious and should have worn their protective suits.”
The officer added: “When you know that there is a timer attached to an IED, you should also be aware that it can go off any moment.”
It is, however, not possible for anyone to figure out when a bomb might go off.
Although some police officers in Alipurduar said that the local team of cops had done the right thing by taking the IED to a field as the area would have got crowded later in the day, a Calcutta police officer differed.
He said no one should have touched the bomb under any circumstance.
If an explosive is planted in a place likely to attract crowds — the bomb was near shops in Alipurduar — then the place should be evacuated first, the officer said.
It can take at least half an hour for a squad to defuse an explosive.
This is the third incident in which negligence on the part of the police has led to deaths while defusing IEDs.
In 2005, the officer in charge of Barikul police station in Bankura died while opening a bag in which he suspected an IED had been stored.
In 2006, two members of a bomb squad, Utpal Bhakta and Basudeb Chakrabarty, died when an IED they were defusing in Jhitka forest in West Midnapore exploded.
In neither of the cases were the personnel wearing the protective suits mandatory while defusing explosives.
In today’s incident, senior police officers said, the bomb squad members were as negligent.