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regular-article-logo Saturday, 24 February 2024

Central forces to stay on in Bengal for 10 more days, but schools students want them out of campus

Classes at hundreds of government schools remain suspended with security personnel occupying premises, boys in Cooch Behar take to the streets

Sougata Mukhopadhyay Calcutta Published 24.07.23, 06:59 PM
Students of Lal Bahadur Shastri HS School put up a road block in Bhetaguri, Cooch Behar demanding reopening of school which remains occupied by central forces.

Students of Lal Bahadur Shastri HS School put up a road block in Bhetaguri, Cooch Behar demanding reopening of school which remains occupied by central forces. The Telegraph picture

Amid the rising clamour from students of various state-run schools of the state to re-open institutions following the panchayat elections, the Calcutta High Court on Monday extended the stay of central forces in Bengal for 10 more days.

The forces would be withdrawn from the state in phases following their extended stay subject to the leave of the court.

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The directions were passed by the Chief Justice’s Division Bench in response to a PIL moved by BJP leader and advocate Priyanka Tibrewal last week and a simultaneous letter she wrote to the Union home ministry urging the same in apprehension of post poll violence in the state. The court’s direction followed the Centre’s response which came on Monday during the course of hearing where Ashok Chakraborty, additional solicitor general, confirmed the Centre’s willingness to extend the stay of the jawans for an additional 10 days.

The Telegraph picture

The flip side to keeping the forces stationed in the rural areas is that they keep occupying the state run schools where they are mostly housed. Classes at hundreds of schools remain suspended on account of the security personnel occupying those premises even a fortnight after the rural polls got over. That’s in addition to the extended summer vacation granted to schools on account of extreme heat wave conditions in the state before.

The court had already extended the stay of the jawans once for 10 days in the wake of continuing political brutality after they were initially commissioned by the State Election Commission (SEC) to stay till the counting process of the violence-hit rural polls, which began on July 11 and went on for the next few days, got over. The latest court order means that the occupied school premises would not be vacated before the first week of August at the earliest.

The first signs of students’ discontent spilling over to the streets was observed in the Bhetaguri area of Cooch Behar on Monday after students of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Higher Secondary School carried out a spontaneous road block demanding immediate reopening of their school. Academic activities, reportedly, suffered greatly in the institution following the extended summer break in the wake of the region experiencing widespread political violence in the run up to and during the panchayat polls. Since the elections, the school has been home to the central forces.

Students, especially those in the higher classes who are scheduled to appear for the board exams next year, complained that the school has already lagged greatly behind as far as completing the syllabus is concerned and any further delay in reopening of the school would make matters worse for the students.

While 822 companies of central forces were deployed across the state at the request of the SEC, the Centre submitted before court that it has so far withdrawn 136 companies in two phases. That means over 675 companies of central forces (roughly 67,000 jawans) still remain deployed across the state.

Petitioner Tibrewal, however, feels that the state government should find other ways and means to accommodate the jawans instead of offering schools to set up camps. “There are hundreds of government properties – stadiums, amenity centres, auditoria – across the state. Let them house the forces in these properties and allow the schools to operate. The forces are here because of a dire necessity. They are here to provide security to the people of this state,” she opined.

“The students can study only if they live, right?” Tibrewal remarked.

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