November 9, 2012

Police report contradicts Mamata Banerjee's claim on Birbhum violence

TNN | Nov 9, 2012, 03.27AM IST

A preliminary police report on the violence that broke out in Birbhum's Loba village in West Bengal on Tuesday demolishes Mamata Banerjee's claim that the operation was planned by the district police on its own and the government was not aware of it.

KOLKATA/BIRBHUM: A preliminary police report on the violence that broke out in Birbhum's Loba village in West Bengal on Tuesday demolishes chief minister Mamata Banerjee's claim that the operation was planned by the district police on its own and the government was not aware of it.

Taking cue from the police report, a section of Birbhum police also alleged that it was industries minister Partha Chatterjee, who had insisted that the police recover Bengal-Emta's earthmover lying idle in the village. Some of the police officers claimed Chatterjee had called up now-shunted SP Hrishikesh Meena on October 24 and asked him to expedite the recovery. Later, Trinamool minister from the district Chandranath Sinha and party Birbhum president Anubrata Mandal kept up the pressure. Loba villagers alleged Mandal had accompanied the police force to the village at the break of dawn on Tuesday. Mandal, however, said he was in Kolkata at the time.

Chatterjee, too, denied the charge after a detailed discussion with the CM on Thursday. "I did not give any direction, neither did anyone from my department or the government give any direction. Investing officers can check my call records. The investigation is on. Everything will be exposed. I reiterate that the CPM has a hand in the violence. I can provide evidence to substantiate the claim. Dubrajpur villagers will meet me tomorrow," he said. He added that Maoists could also have had a role in the incident.

Sensing the political repercussions of the case, the chief minister has decided to meet a delegation of Loba villagers on Friday.

The blame game apart, IG (western range) Gangeswar Singh, in his preliminary report to ADG (law & order) Surajit Kar Purakayastha, has put on record the procedures that the district police followed before they went ahead with the final operation. The procedural communication and district intelligence report that was sought for days before the operation leaves beyond doubt that officials in the state administration were kept posted from time to time. A section of the Birbhum police also claimed that the accused SP had sent text messages to the police top brass, including director general of police Naparajit Mukherjee, on the day of the incident at 6.22 am. The fact that senior police officers had planned for a worst-case scenario is evident from their sending an executive magistrate with the police force to the spot, a step that is mandatory for taking action including firing.

Even the political bosses were aware of the ground realities. Chatterjee had a first-hand experience of the tension building up in Loba when he visited the village in July. Later, he met representatives of Loba villagers and PDS secretary Samir Putatunda in the Assembly where the agitators promised to allow Bengal-Emta to take away the machinery if the government helped in sorting out the impasse. In September, villager Felaram Mandal wrote to the CM urging her intervention in the matter. It didn't catch the CM's attention.

A Left Front delegation led by CPM's Anisur Rahman visited Loba on Thursday, but were cold-shouldered by the villagers. "The problem started during the Left Front rule. Since then we have knocked on the doors of all political parties — CPM, Congress and Trinamool Congress. All of them assured us that they would take up the cause but didn't do anything," the agitators said.

It’s TMC vs TMC in West Bengal’s latest land row

Madhuparna Das
Indian Express, Posted online: Thu Nov 08 2012, 02:54 hrs

Dubrajpur, Birbhum : The violence in Dubrajpur in Bengal’s Birbhum district by villagers protesting against land acquisition by a private coal mining company has a strong resemblance to similar campaigns in Singur and Nandigram. Like in those two places, here too suspected Naxalite activists played a key role and joined hands with a range of political outfits in the ‘Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee’ (KJRC) or Save Agricultural Land Committee that led the protests.

However, in a significant difference, the local unit of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress is sharply divided over the controversy. While one faction of the party is with the KJRC, another is said to have been helping the mining firm acquire land. This faction was regularly interacting with the firm’s officials at their office in Dubrajpur which has been closed since mid-September.

Hundreds of villagers armed with bows, arrows and crude bombs had attacked a police contingent in Loba village near Dubrajpur in the early hours of Tuesday when they went there to remove earth-moving equipment of the mining firm, Bengal EMTA. The equipment was used by Bengal EMTA for excavation about a year ago but had been lying idle after the villagers protested. More than 25 policemen were injured and some villagers claimed to have suffered bullet injuries.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Wednesday denied the police had opened fire but ordered an administrative inquiry into the incident. She described the incident as “unfortunate” and said the villagers were provoked by outside elements. The inquiry will reveal who provoked the villagers, she added. “The state government is with the villagers and the state government’s declared policy is not to acquire land for private parties. The villagers were not at fault because some of them were provoked,” Banerjee said.

On Wednesday, when The Indian Express visited Loba, the villagers had dug trenches across the main roads leading to the village to stop police and other officials from entering - a repeat of the tactics used in Nandigram. KJRC members and some other villagers were well-prepared for Tuesday’s trouble as they had stocked bows, arrows, crude bombs and some other traditional weapons as they had been tipped off about the police action, sources said.

Many villagers whose land had been acquired were unhappy with their compensation and had held on to the earth-moving equipment for the last 11 months, hoping to force Bengal EMTA into fresh deals. KJRC leader Asish Mishra said that Naxalite group CPI (ML) and other political groups such as the Party for Democratic Socialism were present in the village and were part of the protests for the last three years.

Bengal EMTA had proposed to acquire 3,353 acres of land spread over 11 villages and a population of 20,000 for the open-cast mine project. But villagers alleged that there was no proper rehabilitation planned for the displaced and claimed that they had raised this about four months back when state commerce and industry minister Partha Chatterjee visited the area. Chatterjee had reportedly promised to take up the issue with the mining firm. The minister visited Loba again Wednesday and promised the villagers he would take up the issue with Bengal EMTA.

A company official, however, said there was no room for new negotiations on the price paid for the land. The company has so far paid Rs 4 lakh per acre of river-bank land, Rs 8 lakh per acre of one-crop farmland, and Rs 10 lakh per acre of multi-crop farmland. It has acquired 500 acres from private owners and another 200 acres from the government. The company would abandon the project but not renegotiate the land price, said the official who did not want to be identified.