The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lock-up tragedy averted

Midnapore, Nov. 2: A replay of the Malda lock-up tragedy seemed imminent this afternoon as a scuffle broke out over water bottles in the overcrowded court lock-up here before it was quelled in the nick of time.

Over 150 detainees crammed into two rooms with a capacity to hold 78 persons that serve as the Midnapore court lock-up began fighting when only four bottles of water were given to them this afternoon after many requests.

The incident could have taken an ugly turn reminiscent of the Malda tragedy, in which two detainees were suffocated to death as policemen looked the other way.

But, today, police intervened and separated the fighting detainees before any untoward incident.

At 9.30 am, 350 men were brought to the sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court from the West Midnapore district jail. Offloaded from five vans, 153 men were pushed inside the two rooms on the court premises that served as the lock-up.

The rest were made to sit on the lawn in front of the court, tied to each other with thick ropes.

According to the lawyers, there was no arrangement for food and water.

“It was in the afternoon that the detained persons, awaiting to be produced before the magistrate, started shouting for some water to drink. But the police guards just looked the other way,” one of the lawyers said.

Some time later, the policemen supplied only four plastic bottles of water into the lock-up. At the sight of the bottles, a scuffle broke out.

“They began hitting each other in a bid to get the water before it was finished, such was the pathetic condition there,” said Tirthankar Bhagat, a member of the bar association and secretary of the district Congress law cell.

As the scuffle took a turn for the worse, police rushed in and resorted to lathicharge to stop the fighting. Some of the detainees were hurt and had to be taken back to prison.

Court inspector Lalmohan Chatterjee refused to comment.

Bhagat alleged that the lock-up was frequently overcrowded and the detainees were kept confined for long hours without food or water.

Police station blast

One person was seriously injured when seized crude bombs went off in Burdwan Sadar police station around noon. Raju Konar, who owns a tea stall adjacent to the police station, accidentally stepped on the bombs while going to the toilet. As they went off, pedestrians on the busy Bejoy Chand Road ran helter-skelter.

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