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Assam: Cops, civil administration demolish houses after arson

Police action on ‘encroachers’ after custody death protest turns violent
An earthmover during the eviction drive in Nagaon in Assam on Sunday.
An earthmover during the eviction drive in Nagaon in Assam on Sunday.
PTI Photo

Umanand Jaiswal   |   Guwahati   |   Published 23.05.22, 02:15 AM

Police and the civil administration demolished the homes of five people with bulldozers in a minority-dominated locality of Assam’s Nagaon district on Sunday, a day after a local police station had been burnt down by people protesting an alleged custody death.

Among the houses razed in Chalnabori was that of Safiqul Islam, 39, who allegedly died in police custody. The police have ordered a probe into the custody death allegation and suspended one officer while benching 10 others.


The police have not overtly linked the demolition drive to the arson attack on Batadraba police station. A senior officer said the demolition was carried out against encroachers and that most of those who had burnt down the police station were encroachers.

The police had picked up 21 people in connection with the arson, of whom six have been arrested under penal sections dealing with criminal conspiracy, rioting, attempt to murder, being armed with deadly weapon, assaulting public servant, criminal trespass and damage to public property, among others.

Special DGP (law and order) G.P. Singh told journalists that the police had found out during the investigation that most of those who came to the police station on Saturday were living on encroached land.

“Even if they have pattas (land deeds), they must have acquired them through forged documents or through fraudulent means. In this connection, we registered a case and also informed the district administration. On that basis — since there are forged documents, people are living illegally and illegal activities are going on — we carried out an eviction drive in some houses there today,” Singh said.

According to a policeman, around 22 Insas and self-loading rifles were damaged in the fire.

Special DGP Singh said a special investigation team had been formed to probe the arson. The SIT has been told to submit its report within 45 days and the chargesheet within 60 days. He said it would be probed if the mob had any links with any jihadi or banned organisation.

Neither the Nagaon DC nor the SP responded to calls or messages from this newspaper about the demolition drive.

The Opposition Congress and Raijor Dal condemned the arson in the strongest terms but also spoke against the demolition.

Batadraba MLA Sibamoni Bora of the Congress said five houses were demolished at Chalnabori, about 4km from the police station, and among them was the house of Safiqul.

The demolition started around 6am.

“I strongly condemn the burning down of the police station... for that matter any public property, but demolition cannot be the answer to the arson. The public made a mistake but this does not mean the police will also make a mistake. I am told the demolished houses were not on government land and no notice was served before the drive,” Bora, a former government official, told The Telegraph.

Bora wondered how the mob could burn down the police station and called for a probe. “There were several police stations within a radius of 8km. Reinforcements should have been called in. The police should have anticipated trouble since a person died,” she said.

Congress leader Bhupen Kumar Borah said a seven-member team headed by working president Rana Goswami would visit the area where the demolitions were carried out and submit a report within 48 hours.

The ruling BJP has called for tough action against those involved in the arson. Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said those involved would not be spared.

Minority-dominated Batadraba is about 15km from Nagaon town and is the birthplace of the revered Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankardeva. The BJP-led government is developing the Batardava Than, founded by the saint, into a leading pilgrimage destination along the lines of the Golden Temple.

Assam DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said a senior police officer from a neighbouring district would probe the alleged custody death of Safiqul, who had been brought to the police station at 9.30pm on Friday on the basis of a complaint that he was drunk.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Mahanta said Safiqul was lying on a road before he was brought in. He was booked after a medical check-up.

“The next day he was released and handed over to his wife. His wife even gave him some water and food. Later, he complained of sickness and was taken to two hospitals, one after another. Unfortunately, he was declared dead. We take this unfortunate death very seriously and have put the Batadraba police station OC on suspension and closed (benched 10 other policemen). If there was any foul play at our end, we mean to find that out and punish the guilty according to the law, no two ways about it,” Mahanta said.

Safiqul’s relatives had told the media on Saturday that the police had demanded Rs 10,000 and a duck to release him. They said his wife had brought the duck first and then the money but was told by the police that he had been taken to Nagaon civil hospital. The family alleged that Safiqul was tortured.

On the arson that occurred on Saturday afternoon, Mahanta said it was not a “simple action-reaction” incident given the “preparedness with which they came” and that “the ferocious and organised attack they staged on the police force has made us think deeper”.

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