The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Holes in govt stand and tactics

Calcutta, March 16: A probe by Bengal police has thrown up findings that contest the government’s defence of the firing in Nandigram.

A preliminary report of a committee led by Bengal director-general of police A. Vohra suggests that an intelligence report was ignored while attempting to enter the “cut-off” villages.

Yesterday, the chief minister had said “we did not comprehend the scale of the agitation” but the Intelligence Bureau report had warned the government of stiff resistance from nearly 10,000 to 15,000 people if a force was sent to reclaim the villages in Nandigram.

Also, non-lethal ammo, like tear smoke bombs, that were acquired by the state police were not used while dispersing the crowds. Their use may have saved many lives, the police said today.

“Anticipating large-scale resistance, the IB had suggested that policemen should enter (the villages) from four sides. But that plan remained only on paper and the policemen, split in two groups, raced towards Sonachura from two flanks only. This proved an unwise move,” a senior IPS officer said.

“What is the point now in saying that the administration did not expect such a huge resistance'” he asked.

Senior IPS officers and officials of the home department also said the policemen should have shown restraint and used tear smoke bombs and smoke grenades.

“Instead of firing live ammunition, they should have used smoke grenades that would have sounded like explosives but not taken any lives,” the IPS officer said.

The police official also noted that the policemen had not worn tear-gas masks — reflecting lack of professional handling of the situation. As a result, when the gas blew back on the policemen, their vision became blurred as they started firing.

Bengal police also have the Vrishti and Vajra non-lethal weapons as well as water cannons but they did not take these to Nandigram as planned earlier.

“Vajra and Vrishti are non-lethal weapons fitted atop vehicles to launch seven to nine rubber bullets at once. But these are kept in the Barrackpore police lines and were not taken there,” an official in the home department said.

“Even the three water cannons, one of which was sent to Singur last month, were not transported there,” he added.

As part of a modernisation programme, Bengal police had bought 10 Vajra vehicles costing Rs 20 lakh each and three water cannons costing nearly Rs 50 lakh about 12 years ago.

Contacted, inspector-general (law and order) R. Kanojia said: “We are trying to ascertain some facts. This is not the time to talk about it in detail.”

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