Purulia, June 27: Maoists stormed a railway station, set fire to the stationmaster’s office and rigged the tracks with explosives early today in a fiery warning to Bengal over the Nandigram “genocide” and its special economic zones.
The pre-dawn attack on Biramdih station in Purulia, close to the Jharkhand border, is the first of its kind in Bengal and came amid a 48-hour economic blockade the rebels have called in their strongholds in the east.
In Calcutta, home secretary Prasad Ranjan Ray said a probe has been ordered. “We are inquiring into what happened in Biramdih,” he added.
The attack, which came despite the announcement of the blockade, began around 1.30 at night when assistant stationmaster Dhaneswar Mandri was working in his office. Along with him in the room were three other employees, Basudeb Mahato, Buddheswar Mahato and Pravas Mahato. Another assistant stationmaster, Sanjay Mondal, was off duty and sleeping inside the booking office.
| The explosive device planted by the Maoists below the tracks. It was later defused. Picture by Rahul Mahato
Mandri said 20 people suddenly burst into his office and “aimed revolvers” at them while another 20 waited outside.
“They ordered us in Bengali and Hindi out of the room. They pushed us to the next room, which is used as a booking office. From there we could hear shouts and smelled petrol,” Mandri said.
“We realised the Maoists were sprinkling petrol inside the stationmaster’s office. We became scared and for a moment thought we would be burnt alive.”
While some Maoists sprinkled petrol in the stationmaster’s room, others pasted posters on the walls and pillars on the station premises. The posters condemned the “genocide” in Nandigram — where 14 land protesters were killed in March in clashes with police — and warned the government against setting up special economic zones in Bengal.
Another group sprinted about a kilometre towards Balarampur on the Purulia side and planted an explosive under the tracks. The Jharkhand border is about one-and-a-half kilometres from Biramdih.
At the railway station, the Maoists asked the five employees inside the booking office to leave. Then they doused the office with petrol and struck the match. Within moments, both the stationmaster’s office and the booking office were in flames. The operation was over in 20 minutes and soon the guerrillas had melted into the darkness.
Police said the Maoists fled towards the Dalma range in Jharkhand, about 15 km from the spot.
Inside the stationmaster’s room, all the signalling gadgets, telephones, furniture and papers were gutted. So was the booking office.
After the guerrillas left, Mandri contacted the railway authorities in Purulia. The local Balarampur police station was also informed.
Purulia police chief Ashoke Prasad reached Biramdih at dawn. Officials of Government Railway Police also arrived from Nimdih in Jharkhand and Purulia.
“We have started raids in the area. We have information that the Maoists have fled towards the Dalma range in Jharkhand,” Prasad said.
The fire destroyed the signalling panel board of Biramdih station on the Purulia-Chandil section in the Adra division. As a result, train services were suspended on that line. Several express and passengers trains were either diverted or short-terminated.
Later in the afternoon today, bomb squad officials reached the spot from Howrah and defused the explosive device around 3.45. Train services normalised at 4 pm.
The Maoists had called the two-day strike in their strongholds to protest against SEZs that have sparked anger over acquisition of farmland.
The blockade choked mineral supply lines in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and hit train services.
Yesterday, a goods train engine was targeted while tracks were blown up elsewhere.