|(From top) The holiday home in Jaldapara which was set on fire; a ticket counter that was vandalised on Wednesday. Pictures by Anirban Choudhury
Alipurduar. March 19: A group of villagers in Salkumar block today rampaged through the premises of two forest department offices, alleging that a Class XII boy couldn’t write his board exam because of an assault by the officers.
The 1,000-strong mob set a holiday home on fire and vandalised the offices of Jaldapara East and West ranges, vehicles and a ticket counter.
The residents of Salkumar I and II gram panchayats, said Sanjoy Barman, a higher secondary examinee from Prodhan Para, was walking to Jaigaon yesterday when he was stopped at the Salkumarhat gate (the entry point of the national park) by foresters who wanted to check his identity.
“The boy was taken into a vehicle and tortured by the foresters, saying he had entered the park without permission. Sanjoy couldn’t write today’s Class XII board exam because of the assault,” said a villager.
The villagers reached the Jaldapara west range office around 9am today to protest the assault on the boy. The villagers had told the Jaldapara West range officer yesterday that they would demonstrate in front of the forest office in Jaldapara, around 50km from here.
The people threw stones at the West and East range offices which are located close by and smashed and turned turtle two jeeps. They also vandalised a school bus. The vehicles were owned by the Jaldapara National Park.
A private car of a range officer was also vandalised. The attackers didn’t spare documents and computers in the offices either.
Most of the foresters fled seeing the mob. However, the attackers could get hold of Suranjan Sarkar, the range officer of Jaldapara East, Ranjit Sarkar, the range officer of Holong, and beat them up.
A section of women assaulted Sweta Rai, the assistant wildlife warden of Jaldapara.
Around 10.30am, a police team from Madarihat reached the spot. As the mob grew, a large number of police personnel from Alipurduar and Falakata was also deployed on the premises of the forest offices.
A group of miscreants set the forest holiday home on fire around 2pm in the presence of the police. The holiday home was a wooded structure which was used by the foresters and their families to stay while on a vacation.
The forest officers tried to reason with the villagers but to no avail.
Akash Magharia, the assistant superintendent of police of Alipurduar, reached the spot around 3pm and brought the situation under control.
Sitaram Chhetry, the secretary of Salkumar I eco development committee, said: “Sanjoy could not attend his exam today because he was tortured by the foresters yesterday. The villagers gathered to gherao the forest offices but a few of them went out of control and attacked the vehicles as well as forest offices. None of the villagers was involved in setting the holiday home on fire,” he said.
Chhetry claimed that the foresters had promised that no action would be taken against the villagers in connection with today’s incident. “In the presence of the ASP of Alipurduar and other forest officers, it was decided that no legal action would be taken against anyone from Salkumar I and Salkumar II panchayats. If any legal action is taken against any of us, a similar incident may take place again.”
Rajendra Jakhar, the divisional forest officer of Jaldapara wildlife division, however, said an FIR would be filed with the police. “This kind of an incident was unexpected. We have started an inquiry to find out how and why the incident took place. We will lodge an FIR.”