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Fee ransack in school

- Mob throws stones and attacks police following protest

Malda, June 10: A mob of nearly 200 people today attacked a school in Malda’s Kaliachak when a group of guardians had gone to protest a misconstrued hike in the Class XI admission fee.

Around 3pm, the guardians went to Akandaberia High School, 35km from Malda town, to meet the headmaster and give a letter protesting the Rs 1,400 fee.

Senior police officers said some of the “local people” in the group resorted to violence, which snowballed into a law-and-order problem. “We had deputed four policemen to prevent any trouble. But a section of local people turned violent and started throwing stones at the school building,” Prasun Banerjee, the Malda district superintendent of police, said.

Late tonight, Chandan Mondol, the CPI pradhan of the Akandaberia gram panchayat who had led the parents to the school, was arrested. Three more persons were held but their names were not given out by the police.

In several classes students were writing exams when the mob started ransacking the school. All the children fled. There was no report of injury to any teacher or student.

When the guardians came to the school, four of them were allowed to enter his room, Chowdhury said.

He said he had informed Kaliachak police that the guardians would place their demand before him and four policemen were already on the campus when the group came.

“We had just started discussions, when a large number of outsiders entered my chamber. They began ransacking my office, overturning chairs and tables. When the teachers and I protested, we were pelted with stones. The police team was forced to intervene,” he said.

Chowdhury said the school managing committee had decided that the admission fee for the current session would be “Rs 500 for arts and commerce streams, Rs 800 for the science and Rs 700 for physical education. We had made the fee structure clear to those seeking admission.”

He denied that the school had charged Rs 1,400 from any student for admission to XI.

“I had heard that there was a misconception that we were charging Rs 1,400 and that is why I had agreed to meet the guardians,” the teacher said.

The headmaster said that when the policemen tried to stop the mob, “the crowd began throwing stones at them, injuring the officer (assistant sub-inspector Haradhan Pal) and his men. They were forced to fire four rounds in the air to protect themselves.”

District police chief Banerjee said he had deputed an officer to find out if there was air-firing on the school campus. TV footage showed some jawans doing so.

Chowdhury said that around 4pm, the inspector in charge of Kaliachak police station arrived with a large force. He, too, was attacked by the stone-throwing mob. A police jeep was damaged.

Atiur Rehman, the assistant headmaster, said: “Some other teachers and I were in the headmaster’s chamber. The windowpanes shattered as stones kept flying into the room. We had to take cover behind cabinets and under tables.”

Those who had come to submit the letter said they were not involved in the violence. “Other schools in the area are charging Rs 350 as admission fee but Akandaberia High School is charging around Rs 1,400. We wanted to register our protest…. The headmaster refused to hear us out. We do not know who is behind the violence. There were people outside who turned violent when the police intervened,” said a guardian, who did not want to be named.

The headmaster said around 5.30pm, the mob dispersed.

“They ransacked my chamber, the teachers’ room and classrooms in all three wings of the building. Computers were broken as well,” he said.

The headmaster identified the person leading the parents as “Chandan Mondol, the CPI pradhan of the Akandaberia gram panchayat”.

He added: “There were also CPM and BJP leaders of the area in the group. I have lodged a police complaint against them.”

Ashis Chowdhury, the district inspector of schools to whom the headmaster had complained, said: “If there was any question regarding the admission fee, the guardians should have complained to me instead of taking the law into their own hands.”

Asked about the air-firing, Malda police chief Banerjee said he had instructed deputy police superintendent Nirmal Singh Deb to “file a report on whether the police opened fire at Akandaberia High School. Five of our men were injured.”