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Two die in police firing in Tawang

At least two persons died and eight were injured when police opened fire on people protesting against the arrest of a Buddhist monk at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh today.

By Ranju Dodum and Pranab Kumar Das
  • Published 3.05.16

Itanagar/Tezpur, May 2: At least two persons died and eight were injured when police opened fire on people protesting against the arrest of a Buddhist monk at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh today.

Lama Lobsang Gyatso, a Buddhist monk and the general secretary of Save Mon Region Federation, which has been opposing mega dam projects in Tawang and West Kameng districts, was taken into police custody on April 26 after an audio clip surfaced where he allegedly said that Guru Tulku Rinpoche, the abbot of the famous Tawang Monastery, should distance himself from hydropower issues in the districts. He also allegedly questioned the abbot's nationality, claiming that he was from Bhutan.

Gyatso was released that evening but arrested again on April 28 after an FIR was lodged against him at Tawang police station following a meeting of panchayat leaders of the district.


Tawang zilla parishad chairperson Jambey Tsering said they "had to call the meeting at the earliest to prevent any law and order problem in the district as the audio clip deeply hurt the sentiments of the peace-loving people of Tawang". The participants later lodged an FIR against Gyatso.

Opposing Gyatso's arrest, hundreds of followers, many of whom were monks and nuns, assembled outside the police station to express their ire. Matters reportedly escalated some time between 11am and noon today when Gyatso was briefly released and then taken back to the police station. When the protesting monks and nuns found out, they became agitated. They shouted slogans and allegedly set fire to a portion of the police station.

The police then opened fire, killing at least two people. Sources identified the deceased as Tenpa, 28, and Nyima Wangdi, 22. They said both were shot in the head. Unofficial sources said a woman also died.

Gyatso, who was released on bail at 3pm, alleged that the police acted ruthlessly and fired without any warning and without using tear gas shells. He also alleged that after his release, the police themselves burnt the police station.

Despite repeated attempts, district officials, including the deputy commissioner and superintendent of police, could not be reached for comments. Repeated attempts to contact the director-general of police also failed.

Chief minister Kalikho Pul told The Telegraph from New Delhi that an ex gratia of Rs 4 lakh would be given to the next of the kin of each of the deceased, Rs 50,000 to the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 to those who sustained minor injuries. He said he had also ordered a judicial injury. Deputy chief minister and state home minister Kamang Dolo will visit Tawang tomorrow to take stock of the situation, he added.

Earlier, in an official statement, Pul stated that the loss of young lives was "a sad moment in the history of the state". He said peace committees should be constituted immediately, comprising followers of both Guru Rinpoche and Lama Lobsang Gyatso. He said the government would take all steps to ensure that the grievances of the public was addressed and that public confidence was gained immediately so that the situation normalises.

Governor J.P. Rajkhowa appealed to the people to uphold peace and tranquillity. He also pleaded to the lamas and elders to guide the aggravate groups towards amity and reconciliation. He advised the state government, elected leaders and district administration to put in extra effort to maintain law and order.

Union minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju discussed the situation with the chief minister and the chief secretary and appealed to all factions to maintain peace and calm. In an official statement, he suggested that a high-level peace committee, comprising representatives from all sections of society, should be formed immediately to initiate dialogue.

Former chief minister Nabam Tuki extended his condolences to the bereaved family members and said "no matter what the situation is, loss of precious human lives is unfathomable". Hoping that the situation would return to normal soon, Tuki asked the administration to deal with it cautiously and avoid escalation of tension by all means.

The All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union condemned the act, calling it a "monstrous deed not acceptable in a democratic country". It demanded strong government action, ex gratia to the kin of the deceased and prompt medical aid to the injured.

The state BJP demanded deployment of security forces at Tawang at the earliest to diffuse law and order problems arising out of rivalries between monks, as well as their supporters and sympathisers. In a statement, it appealed to the monks in Tawang to resolve their differences peacefully and amicably without resorting to any means of violence.

The firing came a day ahead of the conference, called Hydropower at the Crossroads: Tapping the Untapped is being organised by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) in New Delhi to reflect on issues affecting development of hydropower sector. Pul, accompanied by power minister T.N. Thongdok, parliamentary secretary (hydropower) Phosum Khimhun and chief secretary Shakuntala Gamlin will attend the international conference on hydropower tomorrow. Set against a backdrop of the difficulties that many hydro projects are facing across the country, the conference will bring together experts and stakeholders from the government as well as the private sector and financial institutions.

The Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad will observe a black day tomorrow all over Assam. Its members will wear black badges and raise black flags in public places.

AJYCP state president Biraj Talukdar and its central committee organising secretary Siba Kalita, speaking in Jorhat in Assam, warned the Arunachal Pradesh government against persisting in "fascist activities" which, it said, was evident by its move in arresting and gunning down anti-dam protesters. The AJYCP is also opposed to the NHPC's Lower Subansiri hydel project, located in Assam's Dhemaji district bordering Arunachal. The project has been stalled since December 2011.

Altogether 37 dams have been planned for construction in the two districts which make up the Mon region. The largest of these are Tawang-I (600MW) and Tawang-II (800MW) on the Tawang Chu river and Nyamjang Chhu (780MW) in Tawang district. Clearance for the Nyamjang Chhu project was suspended by the National Green Tribunal last month.

Additional reporting by Smita Bhattacharyya in Jorhat