Narkera (Bokaro), Jan. 9: Chief minister Babulal Marandi and Union minister Rita Verma ran into a fusillade of stones pelted by a mob of villagers soon after they landed here to lay the foundation stone for a bridge.
The villagers were protesting against the construction of the bridge at Narkera, near Chandankyari in Chas sub-division, claiming that the district administration had promised them the same bridge 6 km away at Bhairav Sthan in Bhojudih.
More than half-a-dozen people, including a girl standing behind the dignitaries on the dais, were injured when they were hit by the stones. Three persons have been arrested on charges of taking part in the attack.
The villagers were protesting under the banner of the Jharkhand Vananchal Congress, a party headed by science and technology minister Samresh Singh.
The district administration failed to make adequate security arrangements for Marandi and Rita Verma.
The helicopter carrying the two missed the helipad and had to land on a road, which was already blocked by the relatives and friends of those killed in yesterday’s mine accident at Gori Gaon.
The number of police personnel on duty was insufficient and a police party instructed to reach the venue four hours before the function could not arrive till the last moment.
Sources said despite reports of tension brewing in the area, officials failed to make the required security arrangements.
Marandi was to come by road from Dhanbad. But since the villagers protesting the mining deaths had blocked the Bokaro-Dhanbad highway, he was forced to change his programme. Workers of the Samata Party were also protesting against the bridge.
Before the chief minister’s arrival, a large number of angry villagers gathered around the venue, shouting slogans against Rita Verma whom they blamed for the change of the bridge site.
BJP workers confronted the villagers, shouting slogans in favour of Marandi and Rita Verma, escalating the tension. Deputy commissioner Ravi Shankar Verma and police superintendent Tadasha Mishra remained helpless as the situation spun out of control.
The slogan-shouting soon triggered clashes and BJP workers ran towards the villagers brandishing sticks. Several villagers were beaten up and bricks were also hurled at them for 15 minutes.
The injured villagers returned to the spot with “reinforcements” and surrounded the whole area. Taking position behind the press gallery, they waited for Marandi’s arrival.
The helicopter landed at Manpur Chowk. The presence of a large number of vehicles confused the pilot and he landed 3 km away from the helipad at Narkera.
The angry mob tried to approach the helicopter but policemen encircled it. Marandi and Rita Verma went straight to lay the foundation stone after taking a guard of honour. But as they took seat on the stage, angry villagers from Chipabadh, Kolkari, Huchuktand, Madhra, Simulia and Gori Goan started booing them.
Soon they started pelting stones on the stage. The deputy commissioner and the police superintendent jumped off the stage but Marandi and the Union minister remained there. Some stones hit their chairs.
The police tried to stop the villagers but in vain. Soon, local BJP leaders Prahlad Barnwal and secretary Ambika Khwas directed party workers to chase away the villagers. The BJP workers swung into action and beat back the villagers.
Rita Verma said the site had not changed but was selected in June 1999. She said such violent protests would not stall the bridge construction. Marandi later directed the officials to book those who led the villagers’ protest.
He said villagers could never do such things without “provocation”.