Sambalpur erupts over custody death

Smoke billows from the Ainthapali police station in Sambalpur on Friday. Telegraph picture

Sambalpur: A mob ransacked and set on fire the town's Ainthapali police station on Friday following the death of a theft case accused in its custody. Stacks of important documents and a dozen vehicles parked at the police station were gutted in the fire.

Police had picked up Abhinash Munda, 22, of Bhalupali, from his house on February 7 in connection with a theft that took place a week ago.

Abinash was found dead in the police station lock-up in the early hours of Friday. While the police claimed he had committed suicide by hanging himself, his family alleged that he died of torture. They demanded stern action against the guilty cops and adequate compensation.

As the news of Abinash's death spread, angry Bhalupali residents, including his kin, stormed the police station and set it on fire. Soon the area turned into a battlefield.

Eight cops, including SDPO Abakash Routrai, sustained injuries as the mob threw stones at them. A dozen civilians were injured when cops lathicharged in retaliation. The mob also heckled superintendent of police Sanjeev Arora.

The angry mob blocked the Sambalpur-Rourkela National Highway for several hours and did not allow the fire brigade to reach to the spot.

To assuage the anger of the local people, the government has suspended three police officers. Inspector general of police Sushanta Nath said: "The inspector-in-charge of the police station, Srimanta Barik, the diarist and sentry have suspended for gross negligence and dereliction of duty in connection with the death of Abinash Munda under suspicious circumstances in police custody."

Sambalpur collector Samarth Verma has recommended a judicial probe, while chief minister Naveen Patnaik announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the next kin of the deceased. DGP R.P. Sharma said: "We have asked the human rights protection cell to inquire into the matter. A three-member team of the cell has gone to the spot. Stringent action will be taken against those found guilty."

Additional DGP (HRPC) Mahendra Pratap said the cell would investigate in lines with the NHRC guidelines. Accordingly, post-mortem on Munda's body was done in the presence of a magistrate.

This is the second case of custodial death at Ainthapali police station. Last year, the police had arrested one Abhaya Singh of Bengal on May 30. He later died at VSS hospital on June 12.

Leader of the Opposition Narsingha Mishra said: "The law and order situation in the state has collapsed." BJP leader Suresh Pujari demanded a CBI probe into the death.


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