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regular-article-logo Monday, 27 May 2024

Blast-trail NIA team attacked in Sandeshkhali-style assault to shield TMC accused in Midnapore

NIA officials said they had visited Bhupatinagar, 134km from Calcutta, to arrest Balai Charan Maity and Manobrata Jana, suspected conspirators behind the blast who had allegedly twice evaded summons

Kinsuk Basu, Anshuman Phadikar Calcutta/Tamluk Published 07.04.24, 05:50 AM
Kolkata: Balai Charan Maity (2L) and Manobrata Jana (2R), accused in the 2022 Bhupatinagar blast case, being produced before a court after they were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials, in Kolkata, Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Kolkata: Balai Charan Maity (2L) and Manobrata Jana (2R), accused in the 2022 Bhupatinagar blast case, being produced before a court after they were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials, in Kolkata, Saturday, April 6, 2024. Sourced by the Telegraph

A National Investigation Agency team was allegedly attacked by villagers, including women, in Bhupatinagar area of East Midnapore on Saturday when they arrived before dawn to arrest two Trinamul-linked suspects in a December 2022 blast.

The incident, which follows a mob attack on an Enforcement Directorate team in Sandeshkhali in January, has triggered a political debate on the
law-and-order situation in Bengal in the run-up to the general election.

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NIA officials said they had visited Bhupatinagar, 134km from Calcutta, to arrest
Balai Charan Maity and Manobrata Jana, suspected conspirators behind the
blast who had allegedly twice evaded summons.

While the NIA did not mention the duo’s political affiliations, it was learnt that Maity is president of Trinamul’s Arjungarh anchal (zonal) unit and Jana the party president for a booth area in Nijanarua, Bhupatinagar. An NIA court has remanded them in agency custody till April 10.

Kolkata: Balai Charan Maity, an accused in the 2022 Bhupatinagar blast case, being produced before a court after he was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials, in Kolkata, Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Kolkata: Balai Charan Maity, an accused in the 2022 Bhupatinagar blast case, being produced before a court after he was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials, in Kolkata, Saturday, April 6, 2024. PTI

“Preliminary investigations pointed to them as the prime accused and there was therefore an urgency to arrest them before they got a chance to tamper with the evidence,” a source in the central anti-terror agency said.

On January 5, an ED team and accompanying central forces were allegedly attacked in Sandeshkhali, North 24-Parganas, while attempting to raid the home of Trinamul strongman (now suspended from the party) Sheikh Shahjahan.

“If such incidents keep happening, questions on the law-and-order situation in the state are natural. One should also consider how such incidents are affecting Bengal’s image before the outside world,” a senior officer with a central agency said.

He said the NIA team, working under the instructions of the high court, had come with arrest warrants.

File picture of the house of the house that was damaged in the explosion at Bhupatinagar in East Midnapore on December 3, 2022.

File picture of the house of the house that was damaged in the explosion at Bhupatinagar in East Midnapore on December 3, 2022. Picture by Kanishka Maity

“These two people did not respond to summons, nor did they seek anticipatory bail. Then why did the team, which was doing its job, face this attack?” he asked.

Some local Trinamul functionaries said Maity and Jana didn’t respond to the summons since they were busy with poll preparations.

A senior Bengal police officer said an FIR has been drawn up at Bhupatinagar police station on a complaint from the NIA. The charges include assault and forcibly stopping and preventing government officials from discharging their duties.

The police had till late Saturday evening not made any arrests in connection with the attack on the NIA team.

Villagers said the NIA team had arrived at Bhupatinagar around 4am looking for Maity and Jana. After picking Maity up from his home in a pre-dawn swoop, the team headed to Jana’s home, close to the site of the December 2022 blast.

By then some villagers who had gathered nearby to attend a Sitala puja had got wind of the raid and swiftly assembled in front of Jana’s home.

As the NIA officers stepped out of the house with the two accused and were taking them to the raiding team’s Scorpio, some villagers attacked the sleuths with tree branches and bamboo sticks, several purported eyewitnesses have told the police.

They said a group of women led the attack and clashed with women members of the central forces accompanying the NIA team, resulting in a scuffle. Some village men later joined in.

An officer was injured and the SUV’s windshield was damaged in the one-hour brawl.

“The aggressive villagers tried to stop the NIA team from moving towards Bhupatinagar police station to complete the arrest formalities,” the NIA said in an official release.

The release said Jana and Maity “had actively participated in the conspiracy to make crude bombs and had extended support to the same, the NIA had found in its probe, which led to today’s searches and arrests”.

Bengal police sources said they had been informed in advance about the planned NIA raid and had assured help.

But while cops were about to leave Bhupatinagar police station with NIA officials who had arrived there to seek help with the raid, they learnt that another agency team had already reached the village and been attacked by some residents, a senior police officer said.

“An NIA team reached Bhupatinagar early this morning. The local police had assured help. By the time the police team was preparing to leave with the NIA officers, a separate team had already reached and started working in different locations across Bhupatinagar,” district superintendent of police Soumyadip Bhattacharya said.

“A vehicle has been partly damaged and an officer has received minor injuries. We have initiated a probe.”

Around 11 pm on December 3, 2022, an explosion had ripped through a house at Naruabela, Bhupatinagar. The blast killed house owner Rajkumar Manna and two others: Buddhadeb Manna and Biswajit Gayen. Their body parts were strewn around the nearby paddy fields.

Bhupatinagar police began a probe after drawing up an FIR that did not invoke the Explosive Substances Act.

On March 21 last year, Calcutta High Court handed the probe over to the NIA on the basis of a writ petition. The NIA began its probe on June 4 after registering a fresh FIR that mentioned provisions of the Explosive Substances Act.

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