Burdwan, Jan. 16: Farmers and police fought a pitched battle on GT Road near here this morning over the construction of a bypass through their land. The farmers alleged that their source of livelihood was being snatched away to protect sweetshops that line the highway in Shaktigarh.
Twenty people, including four policemen, were injured in the clash that halted highway traffic for nearly four hours.
Trouble broke out when about 5,000 farmers set off from Shaktigarh for Burdwan with around 100 bullock carts to submit a deputation to the district magistrate, urging him to stall the construction.
The procession was stalled by a large police contingent after it had trudged around 10 km. But the farmers pulled down the barricade and went ahead till they were halted again at Birhata Bridge, 2 km away.
Deputy superintendent of police, headquarters, Ambika Mukherjee, confronted the adamant farmers, rallying under the banner of the Shaktigarh Krishijami Bachao Samity, at this point.
With the baton-wielding police blocking the way, a clash erupted. As the police tried to chase away the farmers, they hit back with a shower of stones.
“The protesters have complained that the police beat them mercilessly. I have asked for a report,” said additional district magistrate Nabani De.
The Shaktigarh stretch of the Grand Trunk Road is being widened by the National Highway Authority of India to facilitate a four-lane carriageway. “We will have to get in touch with the authority and ask Writers’ Buildings to inform the Centre about the development,” said De.
“According to the initial plans drawn up by the authority, the sweetshops — famous for their langchas — would have had to shift. But the shop-owners used their influence to persuade the planners into constructing a 7-km bypass through our lands, our only means of livelihood,” said Salil Basu, a member of the farmers’ association.
He claimed that more than 1,500 bighas of farmland was “forcibly acquired” for the project. “This means a large portion of land, which bears three crops a year, will shrink and affect about 5,000 farmers and farm labourers.”
Sources said the district administration and the police had on several occasions tried to remove illegal encroachments from the fringes of the Shaktigarh market, through which the GT Road passes, but the shop-owners had resisted them.
A group of four stormed a photo-copy shop on Ganesh Chandra Avenue in Calcutta tonight and looted Rs 1 lakh, says a staff reporter. Police said the miscreants armed with revolvers and choppers broke open the cash box. They took the money at gunpoint and walked out.