The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soldiers & people in land war

Ramgarh, Nov. 7: Residents of the newly created district more famous for its cantonment today set ablaze an army records building hours after soldiers damaged a temple under construction on a disputed plot of land.

Deputy superintendent of police Sanjeev Kumar acknowledged the army’s involvement in the tension that gripped the town. No army official was willing to speak on record.

Sources said the plot of land has been the site for a Durga Puja since 1942. But on Vijaya Dashami this year, a fire broke out which destroyed the idol. Sanjay Singh, convener of the Durga Puja organising committee, said the shocked residents had decided to construct a temple there. A boundary wall had been built and a raised structure was erected.

Around 1.30 am, the residents alleged, at least 200 uniformed armymen in three trucks and two jeeps swept into the site and laid siege.

Members of the puja committee and labourers working on the temple were held at gunpoint. The committee members were allegedly asked to hand over their mobile sets, after which the soldiers ordered that the 25-ft high boundary walls be razed. Within minutes, the order was executed.

Enraged residents marched towards the cantonment board office and tried to enter. But the police intervened and managed to pacify the people, who then gathered at the busy Subhash Chowk intersection on the Ranchi-Patna highway (NH-33).

The residents blocked the highway and demanded action against the armymen. The police team tried to talk the people out of their stand, but failed. Around 6.15am, the DSP reached the spot and assured the residents of action. But all of a sudden, the residents, who had been seething in rage, suddenly rushed once more towards the cantonment board office.

This time, they managed to smash the gates and enter the complex. Sensing the fury, the five to six guards present fled.

The mob broke open locks of the tax room, store and the offices of chief executive officer S.C. Kaushal and engineer B.D Pandey. The documents and furniture were set ablaze, computers were damaged and windowpanes smashed.

As they left, the residents set fire to the two-storied building, partially gutting it. The mob also entered Kaushal’s official residence and hurled two bombs.

Army sources said the arson was a huge setback for the cantonment board, which was set up in 1941 and looks after all basic facilities of the residents. The cantonment charges taxes from residents similar to a municipality or corporation, said a board official. “We have lost all records of taxes and other documents,” he said.

Kaushal later lodged a named FIR against 12 puja committee members for arson and damage of property.

The puja committee as well as the army claim ownership of the large tract of land in the heart of town. Both sides say the land was given to them by Ramgarh’s erstwhile Padma Rajas.

DIG (North Chhotanagpur) Ajay Kumar Singh called a meeting of both sides this afternoon.

Officials asked the puja committee and the army to furnish documents to support claim on the land. The committee showed documents, but the army could not and claimed the officer concerned stays in Danapur.

The administration has given the army time till December 5 to produce the papers.

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