Bulldozers roll, but not in Lalgarh

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  • Published 19.11.08

Nov. 18: The administration began removing roadblocks around Bengal’s Jhargram town but stayed away from nearby Maoist stronghold Lalgarh a day after tribal leaders ag- reed to the move at a peace meeting.

This is the state’s first initiative to clear the blockades angry tribals had set up to prevent police raids in Lalgarh and surrounding areas after a Maoist mine blast on November 2 narrowly missed the chief minister.

The West Midnapore district authorities deployed bulldozers to remove tree trunks from the road at Kalaboni that branches off National Highway 6. Traffic from Calcutta can now make it to Jhargram town from the highway.

Trees placed on the road connecting Jhargram with Bandwan in Purulia were removed at Dahijuri More. But the road continued to be blocked in at least two other places.

Officials led by Jhargram deputy magistrate Shasanka Shekhar Roy were gheraoed by a group of tribals on this road when they went to Magura, some 4km from Dahijuri, this evening. Roy and Binpur police station officer-in-charge Kushal Mitra left their vehicles behind and walked back to Dahijuri.

“We will talk to the agitators tomorrow and persuade them to help us withdraw the roadblock,” said additional district magistrate R.A. Israel.

Around 3,000 tribals armed with bows, arrows, spears and axes took out a procession challenging the move to clear roads in Belpahari, only around 4km from Jharkhand and a Maoist hotbed.

Five Santhal outfits led by the Bharat Jakat Majhi Marwa had yesterday agreed to remove the roadblocks everywhere except Lalgarh at a peace meeting in the district headquarters, Midnapore.

“It is a movement for our rights. Who are they (the Marwa leaders) to decide whether the roadblocks should be withdrawn?” asked Padmalochan Mahato of Aguibill village.

Sidhu Soren, the secretary of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, said: “Our movement will continue till all our demands are met. We have added two more to earlier 11: the administration will have to pay for the treatment of Mohan Tudu, who was injured when police applied force to lift the blockade on Sunday night. They will also have to repair or replace 30 cycles damaged that night.”

Among its other demands are the release of all tribals arrested from the region in the past 10 years and an apology by the superintendent holding his ears for the police action after the November 2 blast.

In Calcutta, chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb said the home secretary would visit Midnapore town on Thursday to hear the demands.

Bringing back normality in the area, however, may prove tougher than removing tree trunks. With vast swathes cut off from the administration, the Maoists are having a free run and instigating villagers.

A member of the Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa regional committee of the CPI (Maoist), who is camping in the area, said: “If the police use firearms against the protesters, we will strike back.”

Rakesh (name changed on request), one of the 13 members of committee, said: “We are guiding the deprived tribals of Lalgarh and taking care of them. What has the government done for them in three decades?

“Many of our cadres from the two neighbouring states (Jharkhand and Orissa) have arrived through the Jharkhand-Belpahari border to save the poor tribals from police atrocities.”

In Midnapore town, Mamata Banerjee’s supporters began a sit-in outside the district magistrate’s office.