Calcutta, Nov. 22: Yesterday’s rampage was planned days in advance but city police’s intelligence wing knew nothing of the rioters’ strategy, their number or the spots they had picked.
The special branch (SB) today came under criticism even within Calcutta police with veteran officers shifting the blame partly to Lalbazar, saying the headquarters treated the wing as a “dumping ground” for the inefficient.
CPM state secretary Biman Bose, too, blamed yesterday’s lawlessness on an intelligence failure.
“The SB had no clue about the crowd’s strength and intention. It only knew what the organisers had officially given out — that there would be a three-hour chakka jam,” a senior officer said.
One of the main jobs of the special branch, created by the Raj, is to collect information on political parties and their plans. It has around 1,600 personnel, including almost 50 inspectors and over 150 sub-inspectors, and is headed by a deputy commissioner.
“It used to be an efficient department till the early ’80s but became a dumping ground as the importance of intelligence-gathering declined in Lalbazar’s scheme of things. Our main job is to protect and escort VIPs,” a department old-timer said.
On Monday, the organisers had announced they would block roads to protest the Nandigram violence and press for cancellation of Taslima Nasreen’s visa.
“The SB passed the information around the city. But it did not mention where the road blocks would be put up and how many people might participate,” the senior officer said. “If we had any clue about the agitation’s size and scale, we would have come better prepared,” said a deputy commissioner.
A junior officer said the police could then have raided the crime dens of Padmapukur (CIT Road), and Kasaibazar and Bandarpatti (Park Circus) and carried out preventive arrests. “There would have been a stronger force deployment. We would have brought anti-riot equipment like water cannons and rubber bullets.”
But when trouble broke out, it was the local Park Street, Beniapukur and Topsia police stations that were left to tackle them. They found themselves short of numbers and equipment.
The police have learnt that people had arrived from Barasat in North 24-Parganas and many villages in South 24-Parganas and been camping in the trouble zone for at least two days. “Even arms and ammunition were brought in — but we did not know,” an officer said.
Deputy commissioner (SB) Vineet Goyal, also handling the responsibility of DC (headquarters) for some time, refused to comment on his department’s performance.
Police commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakrabarti gave the special branch a clean chit. “We had information that the organisers would assemble at Park Circus and Esplanade. They decided at the last minute not to come to Esplanade.”