Protests halt North Bengal trains
Train services between north Bengal and the rest of the state were cut off on Sunday after people protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act vandalised a station in Malda, holding up thousands of passengers and triggering a sharp hike in Calcutta-Bagdogra airfare.
Bus services between Siliguri and Calcutta also came under a shadow after protesters in North Dinajpur damaged three buses at two places on a national highway.
All trains between north Bengal and Calcutta that were to have started their journey from Sunday evening were cancelled around 5.30pm.
“Because of the arson attack and vandalism at the Bhaluka Road station (in Malda), which comes under the Northeast Frontier Railway, and the damage caused to railway tracks because of blockades in Assam, a number of passenger trains have been cancelled, diverted and aborted. The Bhaluka Road incident has led to the cancellation of all trains headed for Calcutta and other destinations through the station,” a source in the NFR said.
According to NFR sources, as many as 40 trains have been cancelled, including the Darjeeling Mail, Padatik Express, Teesta-Torsha Express, Kanchankanya Express, Hatey Bajarey Express, Kanchanjunga Express, Saraighat Express, Kamrup Express, Haldibari-Calcutta Express, Calcutta-Balurghat Express, Uttarbanga Express and the Guwahati-Secunderabad Express.
The last-minute cancellations held up thousands of passengers, both tourists and commuters.
The spokesperson of South Eastern Railway pegged the losses from vandalism at the Kharagpur section alone at Rs 15.7 crore.
In towns of north Bengal, many passengers scrambled to buy bus tickets, including at the busy Tenzing Norgay Central Bus Terminus in Siliguri.
During the day, demonstrators enforcing blockades on NH 34 — at Domohona in North Dinajpur and Baishnabnagar in Malda — ransacked three buses, including two of the North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC).
The attacks have made a section of private bus owners apprehensive and they are considering the option of not running buses from north Bengal to Calcutta and various other south Bengal destinations.
“Three buses were ransacked at Domohona on Sunday and the police did not take any action. We saw frightened passengers rushing out of the buses with children and luggage. We are apprehensive of similar attacks. We are thinking whether to continue our services,” said a transporter who runs a night bus from Siliguri to Calcutta.
The cancellation of trains has triggered a rise in flight fares.
“Since Sunday afternoon, flight bookings have increased as many people need to reach Calcutta urgently. The flight fare to Calcutta for Monday is close to Rs 10,000, which is unusual. The Tuesday fares are also on the rise and it seems many people want to take a flight as they are not sure when the train services will resume,” said Rupam Dutta, who runs a ticketing agency.
The incidents of violence have prompted the state to shut down Internet services in Malda and North Dinajpur, along with Murshidabad, North-24 Parganas, Howrah and parts of South-24 Parganas in south Bengal.
“Initially, the Internet will be stopped for 48 hours in Malda. After analysing the situation, the services may be partially restored on Monday,” said Rajarshi Mitra, the DM.
Around 9am on Sunday, a large number of people gathered at the Bhaluka Road station in Harischandrapur II block under Chanchal sub-division of Malda.
The agitators were carrying bricks, stones and sticks. Soon, they began ransacking the station. RPF and GRP personnel rushed to the spot but were outnumbered.
Assistance was sought from the district police and a large contingent arrived. But the enhanced forces also could do little as the number of protesters had swelled to over 10,000.
“The panel room at Bhaluka Road station has been gutted in a fire. The ticket counter was ransacked. Papers and furniture were burnt,” the NFR official said.
At Baishnabnagar, the police had to resort to a lathicharge after a group of protesters blockade NH34 and tried to torch a toll plaza.
“The police had to resort to a lathicharge at two places in Kaliachak I and III blocks where some people tried to damage government properties. Preventive measures have been taken to deal with vandalism. We are keeping a close watch on the situation. Additional police forces will soon reach the district,” said Alok Rajoria, the Malds SP.
In North Dinajpur, the situation turned volatile at Domohona, under Karandighi police station, when protesters blocked NH34 and attacked buses.
In Darjeeling, representatives of all the hill development boards took out a rally against the CAA. The rally started off at Darjeeling railway station and ended at Chowrasta.
In Kalimpong, the Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association held a dharna. Representatives of the association said the dharna would continue.
In Siliguri, protesters blockade NH31 near Ghoshpukur and demonstrated against the CAA. The blockade affected movement of vehicles for around 30 minutes.
Additional reporting by Avijit SInha in SIliguri
Stations, roads bear brunt of citizen law stir
Instances of violence on Sunday
Rejinagar: Around 4,000 protesters ransacked a ticket counter and officials’ rooms around 4pm at Rejinagar railway station on the Lalgola-Sealdah line. The mob later shifted to NH12 and blocked the road for over two hours.
Sagardighi: Around 3,000 protesters set fire to tires and blocked NH12 for over two hours chanting anti-CAA slogans.
Manigram: Over 3,000 people ransacked Manigram station for over two hours, forcing railway staff to flee.
Farakka: Around 2,000 protesters ransacked Tildanga railway station. They vandalised the station manager’s room and the ticket counter. The Congress MLA from Farakka, Moinul Haque, came to the station with his followers and prevented the agitators from doing further damage.
Lohapur: Around 2,000 people attacked the Lohapur railway station and ransacked the ticket counter, the station manager’s room as well as furniture. They set fire to files and furniture on the tracks.
Bataspur: Around 2,000 protesters blocked the railway tracks at Bataspur station in Sainthia for two hours.
Muraroi: Protesters blocked the Muraroi-Raghunathganj road for over three hours at Kashimnagar, Hiyatnagar and Mitrapur. They put up anti-CAA and anti-NRC posters on vehicles. Six buses plying from Birbhum to Murshidabad were cancelled. A BJP party office in Mayureswar’s Kotasur was ransacked.
Burdwan: At least six people were injured in a clash between BJP and Trinamul supporters in Chandul village on Saturday night.
Khandoghosh: A BJP office was ransacked and set on fire allegedly by Trinamul workers participating in a protest rally.
Over 2,000 protesters blocked roads at Lichutala, Amta and Patial in Domjur. They threw burning tyres at vehicles
Over 2,500 protesters ransacked the Akra railway station and set fire to ticket counters and the station manager’s room. Train services were stopped on the route.
Traffic was suspended on NH12 at the Kamdebpur area of Amdanga. Protesters blocked the road from early morning till late in the evening. Blockades were also put at Sonadanga, Dhankal More, Santoshpur, Kacharimore and other areas. The protesters used timber logs to block the road and torched them and also tyres.
Blockades were also put in Bhyabla, Deganga and Jeevanpur by Congress supporters. Kalyani Expressway in Khardah, Sodepur and Naihati Road were blocked. Trinamul organised rallies in Bashirhat, Barasat, Naihati and Khardah, where finance minister Amit Mitra led a protest walk.
Protesters gathered on the ground of Insaf club in Chapra and led a walk through the Karimpur-Krishnagar road, suspending traffic movement for about two hours. Protest rallies were also organised in Bethuadahari, Aranghata and Taherpur.
Snehamoy Chakraborty and Alamgir Hossain and Subhasish Chaudhuri