|The police jeep that was rolled off the road by the mob; and (above) police patrol Sitgram village on Monday evening. Pictures by Nantu Dey
Raiganj, April 19: Police fired three rounds in the air and burst tear-gas shells after they were attacked by angry storm-hit villagers who laid siege to the Sitgram gram panchayat office this evening, demanding relief.
Trouble broke out around 5.30pm when the mob of about 1,500 who had regrouped after being dispersed earlier attacked the police from all sides at Sitram on NH34, 12km from here.
Sujit Ghosh, the inspector-in-charge of Raiganj police station, said his force had no option but to fire in the air, as the mob was targeting the men in uniform, several of whom had been seriously injured. The mob also damaged a police van and a jeep that were rolled off the road into a ditch along the highway.
The subdivisional officer in charge of Raiganj, Pradip Acharya, said three rounds were fired in the air. Sub-inspector Tapan Sen and assistant sub-inspectors R. Mondol and Narayan Das suffered deep cuts on their heads, faces and bodies after they were mercilessly beaten up by the mob, the SDO in charge said. “These policemen were lucky as they were rescued in time,” he added. All three officers have been taken to the district hospital.
A large force, led by deputy superintendent of police Amlan Ghosh, is camping in the area.
The police said about 700 men had arrived at the gram panchayat office at 1pm, demanding tarpaulin sheets. More than 50,000 huts were completely destroyed and 43 people died in the killer storm that struck the five blocks of North Dinajpur on the midnight of Tuesday.
Since then, the affected areas have seen violence that forced the panchayat functionaries to flee their homes for fear of reprisal from the storm-struck people. In the past six days, the gram panchayat offices in Karandighi I and Raniganj, and the block office in Hemtabad have been besieged by the people who complained about a tardy distribution of relief. Even relief minister Mortaza Hussain had to face angry demonstrators during his visit to the storm-hit blocks on Saturday.
Today, however, the panchayat office staff informed the police around 1pm that the crowd of relief-seekers were getting restive outside the office. Soon a force came to the area and asked the crowd to disperse. The protesters, demanding relief, instead set up a roadblock on NH34 in front of the office, but were dispersed by baton-wielding men in khaki.
One of the two persons detained by the police, Sajidul Haq, a resident of Kasimpur village, said he and Mohammed Fatibul, were in no way involved in attacking the police. “We had come with the others for tarpaulin sheets as we have been living in the open ever since the storm, the others got incensed when they saw the police and were lathi-charged while demanding relief,” said Sajidul.
District magistrate Ramanuj Chakrabarty said the attack on the police was motivated by political interests. “The distribution of relief had picked up and today’s incident is politically motivated,” Chakrabarty said.
The Congress gram panchayat pradhan of Sitgram, Nabakumar Roy, said the attack was instigated by the CPM.
“The people who attacked the police are all outsiders and were sent by the CPM to discredit us,” Roy said.
The CPM’s Raiganj local committee secretary, Nilkamal Saha, countered the Congress pradhan’s charge. “It is their own people who had gone to the panchayat office demanding relief. The panchayat members are looting the material meant for the storm-hit. We only demonstrated in the block development offices demanding proper distribution of relief. None of our supporters were involved in the attack today,” Saha said.