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State of civil emergency in Garo hills

- Indefinite closure of SBI and petrol pumps hits hills, ex gratia announced for victim’s family

Tura, Aug. 13: The series of kidnappings and murders in the Garo hills region has led to a “civil emergency”. The indefinite strike by State Bank of India, which entered its fourth day today, together with the closure of petrol pumps across Garo hills for the second consecutive day, has literally thrown public lives out of gear.

An office assistant at SBI, Subodh Kumar Mishra, was abducted at gunpoint on August 5 from Gasuapara in South Garo Hills. Yesterday, a petrol pump worker was shot dead by unidentified assailants on the outskirts of Tura.

The impact has been so intense that even government employees have failed to attend office in the rural areas of Garo hills. “ATMs are closed and petrol pumps are shut. We have no option but to stay home,” said a government employee.

Public transport to different rural areas has almost come to a halt.

“We understand that it is a sensitive matter. It is an irreparable loss for the family. We condemn the act of the perpetrators of crime. The administration has to find ways to sort out the problem,” said a local resident who did not wish to be named.

Fear has gripped the minds of the people. Anti-social elements, vested groups and militants have expanded their tentacles into the heart of Tura town. At 8pm yesterday, an employee of a wine store was attacked at Chandmari, a few metres from the police beat house.

“It is a sorry state of affairs. It is unsafe to travel anywhere,” remarked an office-goer.

The Assam Petroleum Mazdoor Union has decided to cease operations to Meghalaya from August 18. The Union supplies petrol and gas to Meghalaya.

The spokesperson for National Peoples’ Party, James K. Sangma, has condemned the cold-blooded murder of the petrol pump worker Bittu Patel.

The deputy commissioner of West Garo Hills, Pravin Bakshi today said the government would release an ex gratia amount of Rs 3 lakh to Patel’s family.

He also convened a meeting with civil society members, church leaders and senior citizens to discuss the prevailing situation in the district in the aftermath of the attack. The petrol pump association was invited for the meeting. However, they failed to attend.

The meeting was attended by the United Christian Peace Forum, Mothers’ Union, Garo Baptist Church, Bakdil Society and representatives of Shalom Meghalaya.

The meeting condemned the murder and expressed serious concern over the indefinite strike by the Petrol Pump Owners’ Association.

In a joint appeal to the association, they have requested them not to go ahead with their indefinite strike. The civil society has issued an appeal to the public in Garo hills to wear black badges from August 19 as a mark of protest against the “barbaric act on humanity”. They have also expressed solidarity with the petrol pump owners’ of Garo hills.

The strike has forced educational institutions to close down.

Bakshi assured security for the fuel stations, if they can be opened for four to six hours daily for the time being. He will personally write to them. He told media people that police have zeroed in on the suspect and an operation is on to apprehend them.

The petrol pump association of Garo hills today convened a meeting and have decided to go ahead with their indefinite strike. However, in view of Independence Day, the pumps will stay open on August 15.

In a letter addressed to the home minister, Roshan Warjri, the association sought armed police personnel to be deputed for 24 hours at petrol pumps. They have also demanded that the perpetrator of Patel’s murder be apprehended within 72 hours.

The Assam Petroleum Mazdoor Union has written to Meghalaya home minister Roshan Warjri to draw her immediate attention to the issue, failing which they will stop supply of petroleum products to Meghalaya from August 18.