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26 Jan 2017

Police cry peace in Bhangar - Roadblock returns after protest leader's arrest

Police conduct the route march in Bhangar on Wednesday. Picture by Anup Bhattacharya
Pronab Mondal, TT, Bhangar, Jan. 25: Police today entered Bhangar in South 24-Parganas after eight days, conducted a route march and announced on loudhailers that they were in the area to restore peace and not arrest villagers over last week's flare-up.
"We are not entering the villages to find out those who had attacked the police and torched police vehicles. We are marching along the 4km stretch of the Haroa-Lauhati road that was blocked for a week since January 17," a senior police officer said.
A  number of other developments unfolded in Bhangar today:
♦ The police arrested Sarmistha Chowdhury, a member of the Naxalite outfit CPI(ML) Red Star, who had been camping in Bhangar for the past few days;
♦ The father of one of the two villagers killed in the clash with the police moved court seeking a CBI probe;
♦ After Sarmistha's arrest, the villagers put up blockades at the same 18 points on the Haroa-Lauhati road they had blocked last week.
The police march came a day after Trinamul MLA Sabyasachi Dutta led a "peace rally" and removed the 18 blockades that were put up on the road last week.
Bhangar has been tense for around a week after protests over land acquisition for a substation and more compensation snowballed into a clash with the police. Two persons died during the clash.
Trinamul MLA Dutta had taken a cautious approach yesterday by not taking the police along during the "peace rally". Asked why he did not take the cops, Dutta had said: "The villagers had clashed with the police. We wanted to avoid such a situation."
Senior Trinamul leaders said the Bhangar issue was being handled with care in keeping with the chief minister's "specific instructions".
"She doesn't want any Singur-Nandigram type uprising. She has told us to ensure that local people are not touched," a Trinamul leader said.
According to the leader, the police planned to crack down on "outsiders" after winning over the local villagers.
"The protesters are our supporters.... After the peace rally yesterday, a decision was taken on sending the police. The entire exercise was planned with caution," the Trinamul leader said.
Today, the police left the area after conducting the march. But they returned to Machibhanga village hours later and arrested CPI(ML) Red Star member Sarmistha.
The police said there were attempt to murder and Arms Act cases against Sarmistha.
The government has accused "outsiders" of fomenting the trouble in Bhangar. Sources said the term "outsiders" was an oblique reference to Maoist sympathisers.
Sarmistha's arrest triggered a protest in the village.
"Sarmistha came and supported our movement. If they are arrested only because they are outsiders, then Mamata Banerjee had committed the same mistake in Singur and Nandigram," said Mosharaf Hussain, a member of the committee organising the protests.
Some villagers this newspaper spoke to said they too apprehended arrests. "We knew that those who were leading the movement would be the first target.... But we will not sit idle," a villager said.
Hours later, the villagers put up the blockades on the Haroa-Lauhati road.
The Bhangar case took a legal turn today as Sukur Ali Khan, whose son Mofizul Mollah was killed during the January 17 clash, filed a writ petition in Calcutta High Court seeking a CBI probe into the incident and Rs 10 lakh as compensation.
"Since the police killed my son, the court should not allow the police or the CID to investigate the matter," the petition by Khan said.
The police have maintained that Mofizul was killed in firing by "outsiders".
'Maoist' surrender
Amid the administration's attempts to restore peace in Bhangar, a CPI (Maoist) commander Ranjit Pal and his wife Jharna Giri surrendered today.

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