April 23: Shops were set on fire, a truck was burnt and a trader and three policemen were injured in the Dooars today as supporters of the indefinite bandh led by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha clashed with their rivals.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee appealed for peace. “I am asking both sides to maintain peace. No one should say anything that can disrupt peace,” she said.
Police lathicharged and burst tear gas shells to keep the mob at bay in Jalpaiguri’s Banarhat.
The Sashastra Seema Bal, a paramilitary force, has been deployed in the area since the afternoon. The supporters of the bandh, called to protest the denial of permission to hold a public meeting in the Dooars, had set up several blockades across the region.
Prohibitory orders were imposed tonight in seven police station areas of Banarhat, Malbazar, Kalchini, Birpara, Hasimara, Nagrakata and Metelli.
The strike, however, had little effect with tea labourers, who make up the bulk of the working class in the Dooars, joining duty in most gardens. Shops were open at Malbazar, Binnaguri, Banarhat, Nagrakata and Madarihat. Late in the evening, the Morcha announced that the strike would be relaxed for 12 hours, starting from 6am tomorrow.
The Joint Action Co-ordination Committee, led by the Morcha and a dissident faction of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad headed by John Barla, had called the indefinite strike from today in the Dooars and Terai after they were denied permission to hold a meeting in Nagrakata. They had been campaigning for the inclusion of 439 mouzas of the Terai and Dooars in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.
The first incident of violence was reported around 11.30am in Chamurchi in Banarhat. A group of bandh supporters reached the local market, asking shopkeepers to down shutters.
When the policemen stopped them, they resorted to brick-batting and attacked a group of bandh protesters who had assembled nearby. Soon, the other group retaliated, prompting the police to lathicharge and burst five rounds of tear gas shells.
The bandh supporters, traders alleged, attacked them while retreating. Abdul Kader, a businessman, was injured when bandh supporters hacked at his arm with a khukuri. He is under treatment at Jalpaiguri district hospital. They also set fire to the shops and at least 15 of them were gutted.
Another group of bandh supporters, picketing near Red Bank tea estate, 5km away, set fire to a truck carrying goods to the Northeast. Fire engines from Dhupguri and Binnaguri military station arrived to douse the flames as police dispersed the crowd.
A pro-bandh group that assembled at Odlabari ransacked a Maruti car on NH31, 30km from Banarhat. When the local people protested, there was a skirmish that allegedly left a bandh supporter injured. The police lathi charged to disperse the mob.
Bijoy Barua, the secretary of Banarhat Byabsayee Samiti, alleged that the administration had failed to do its job. “The administration should have clamped prohibitory orders. The police have failed to save shops. Fifteen shops were burnt,” Barua said.
District magistrate Smaraki Mahapatra said prohibitory orders were clamped tonight in seven police station areas. “They are Banarhat, Malbazar, Kalchini, Birpara, Hasimara, Nagrakata and Metelli,” she said.
Jalpaiguri police chief Sugata Sen said the situation was under control. “The bandh supporters had attacked a temporary police camp in Chamurchi and injured three policemen.”
In Calcutta, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said permission would be given to political parties to hold public meetings in the Dooars only after the situation returned to normal. “I am asking both sides to maintain peace. No one should say anything that can disrupt peace…The hills and the Dooars are both a part of Bengal so no one should disrupt peace.”
She said both sides should show restraint.
“Some people are trying to say that peace is being disrupted in the hills and the Dooars. But this is a manifestation of differences between two political parties that have been there for long. The administration has asked both sides to be restrained. Since there has been an agreement on the hills involving the Centre, the state and the Morcha, all sides will have to abide by it.”
John Barla, the adivasi leader who has joined hands with the Morcha, said his supporters were not involved in the violence.
Madhukar Thapa, a central committee member of the Morcha, said: “We held a meeting today and decided to relax the strike for 12 hours tomorrow, keeping in mind the inconvenience of the local people and tourists.”
Parishad leader Rajesh Lakra said: “The state must understand the pulse and immediately announce non-inclusion of the Terai and Dooars in GTA, irrespective of the recommendations of the committee.”Courtesy:TheTelegraph.