A girl protests the demolition of company quarters at Gandhi Chowk in Sidhgora on Tuesday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Fifteen people, half of them women, were injured when police used batons to quell a protest on the second day of a demolition drive against condemned and illegally occupied Tata Steel quarters at Gandhi Chowk in Sidhgora area of Jamshedpur on Tuesday afternoon.
Officials of company subsidiary Jusco, who had pulled down six two-room houses on Monday, reached the site for a rerun on two dozen more “unsafe” quarters around 11am. They had a phalanx of policemen for security and two payloaders to complete the job.
Around the same time, 50 members of Mukhi Samaj, who have been occupying the quarters illegally, met East Singhbhum deputy commissioner Amitabh Kaushal and Dhalbhum SDO Prem Ranjan at the district collectorate to seek time to vacate the Gandhi Chowk premises. They received assurance that the drive would be temporarily halted for two days.
But, when they returned and saw the payloaders in action, a section of infuriated protesters began pelting stones at policemen and officials. The force retaliated with lathi-charge, injuring 15.
Jamshedpur Notified Area Committee (JNAC) official D.K. Pandey, deployed to monitor the demolition, claimed he had not given any counter-attack order. “An agitated mob started pelting stones on police and us. We scurried for cover. I did not have time to order a lathi-charge. Several policemen have been injured in the stone-pelting,” Pandey said.
However, Sidhgora OC Sambhu Gupta conceded that police were forced to use baton “mildly” against an angry mob of over 100 people.
Dhalbhum SDO Prem Ranjan confirmed that the administration, after hearing the petition of squatters, had agreed to halt the demolition drive for two days. “I am not aware of any lathi-charge. I will be seeking a report from the magistrate (Pandey) deputed at the site,” he said.
Mukhi Samaj members are, meanwhile, contemplating legal recourse.
“We have been staying here for decades. The demolition work was carried out yesterday without any notice. Today, police wielding lathis were unleashed on us while we were only telling them not to pull down the quarters. We will not allow our homes to be razed till we are given an alternative settlement site,” said Baiju Mukhi.
He added that three persons — Sharda Mukhi (40), Sharthi Mukhi (55) and Deepak Mukhi (32) — were seriously injured and being treated at MGM Medical College and Hospital.
Jusco spokesperson Rajesh Rajan said they had received permission from the district administration to demolish all the condemned quarters, which had not seen repairs in decades. “We will resume the drive when we are given the go-ahead again,” he added.