| The police jeep burns at Labhpur. Picture by Tapas Acharya
Bolpur, Oct. 1: A man protesting against “corrupt” ration dealers was killed in police firing outside a block office in Birbhum today when political leaders were discussing the spreading agitation inside.
A police jeep and several motorcycles were burnt by a mob of over 2,000 that refused to budge until the police fired.
Nearly 2,500 villagers marched to the block office, 230km from Calcutta, at noon when the all-party meeting was in progress. Some Congress supporters were already there with a charter of demands.
Panic-stricken employees locked the main gate, but the villagers broke it open, hurled chairs and tables and overturned other furniture.
“They tried to set fire to the panchayat office and also went to my quarters, but the police managed to drive them away,” Labhpur block development officer Arnab Chatterjee said.
Bolpur circle inspector Kamal Bairagya arrived with reinforcements and pleaded the mob to disperse in vain.
Rapid Action Force and Combat Force jawans were called in. They wielded the baton and burst teargas shells, but the villagers re-assembled.
“Around this point, the police were forced to fire six rounds,” said Birbhum superintendent S.S. Panda. Villagers claimed over 20 rounds were fired.
Ayub Sheikh was hit on the head. The Congress said he was its supporter.
The leaders who had come for the meeting fled as they came to know about the violence.
This is the second time in a fortnight that the police have fired at villagers angry at the ration system. On September 16, two men were injured at Radhamohanpur, Bankura, after villagers beat up CPM leaders who refused to listen to their complaints about non-availability of wheat and rice.
Labhpur Congress president Dulu Mallik said: “I’ve never seen such hatred. The villagers accused all ration dealers of hoarding and selling their food in the black market.”
One of the motorcycles set afire was Mallik’s. Six policemen were injured.
There was trouble at many other places. Home secretary P.R. Ray said: “The public distribution system is not functioning properly. We have asked the food and supplies department to do the needful.”
Birbhum district magistrate T.K. Shome said three ration dealers were arrested and eight suspended today.
At Sian, 40km from Labhpur, the police lobbed teargas shells after villagers thrashed Tamal Krishna Mallik and looted his shop. Nine policemen had to be hospitalised.
Ration shops and their owners’ houses were also attacked at Mollarpur, Mohammadbazar and Suri town.
Ration dealers in Bankura told the administration this evening that they would surrender their permits because of harassment by villagers.