A team of environment activists and social workers, including poet Mandakranta Sen and lawyers of Calcutta High Court, were allegedly assaulted by members of a club in Nadia’s Chakdah on Sunday morning over the felling of trees and the filling of a pond.
Sources said tension had been brewing over the past two weeks between members of the Amra Sabai club, believed to be close to local Trinamul leaders, and district officials over the club’s decision to fill up the pond and feel trees to expand the building.
“A part of the club’s land was recently acquired for the widening of the Chakdah-Bongaon Expressway,” said a resident of the area, adding that club members had set their sights on a pond near their premises shortly after. “The youths have cut down more than a dozen neem trees to fill the pond,” he added.
The sources said that on February 6 the club members resisted when a team of land reforms officials attempted to stop the filling of the pond.
“We had a written order from the Kalyani SDO to investigate the work, because no lowland larger than 5 cottahs can be filled. But the club members cornered and threatened us,” an official said.
The block land reforms officer then reportedly requested Chakdah police “to take action” against those who had put the lives of officials at “risk”.
On Sunday, environmental activists led by advocate Mukul Biswas — who had also lodged a complaint with the district administration regarding the illegal filling — led a protest in the area. Protesters said that despite having informed the police about their movement, they had to bear the brunt of “political hooliganism” on Sunday afternoon.
“We had come to survey the area and submit a memorandum to the police, but Trinamul activists incited a bunch of local youths and attacked us,” said poet Sen, who added that several protesters’ vehicles were damaged.
“I was heckled and kicked when I tried to rescue an activist who was being beaten with bamboo poles. I still cannot believe this,” she added.
The club members then allegedly went to the home of advocate Biswas and ransacked his office.
“They also blocked Bongaon Road by claiming that they were standing up for the people. I hope no one believes their mischief,” Biswas said. “This land has been home to a pond for decades and everyone knows it. It had even been infamous earlier because a few children had drowned in it (as half of it is filled with garbage),” he added.
Members of the club rubbished the allegations and claimed that the land they had been filling had been dug up over 50 years ago for a school project. “This is not a pond as no land record says so. It is actually land that had been dug up for the school. We decided to fill the land so we could organise fairs and cultural programmes,” said club secretary Susanta Roy.
Trinamul’s Chakdah MLA Ratna Ghosh initially echoed the club members. “They were filling the land in order to organise a mela. Outsiders came and disrupted their work by protesting,” she said.
She later did a U-turn later and said: “It is unfortunate if anyone was attacked, and I don’t know what actually happened. I have told both sides to visit the land department to check the official records.”