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8 Jul 2017

Basirhat action litmus test - Officials claim nod for unbiased steps

Pranesh Sarkar, TT, Calcutta, July 7: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has asked officials to pursue stringent action against those involved in the Basirhat violence regardless of their community and political affiliations, sources said.
"The chief minister has asked director-general of police Surajit Kar Purkayastha and home secretary Atri Bhattacharya to initiate stringent action against all the culprits without considering their caste, community or political colour," a senior official said.
Other officials said they could not recall such an explicit instruction having been given before in the six years the Trinamul Congress has been in power in the state.
Commenting on previous instances of communal strife in the state, a home department official said: "We did manage to defuse the situations then but the follow-up action was not very firm. This time it's going to be different."
Another official conceded that earlier, the focus used to be on ensuring that the clashes were not repeated. "We didn't want to ruffle any feathers for fear of more tension."
This time, the state government is convinced that the flames were fanned deliberately to try and destabilise the government.
As the situation appears to be returning to normal in the affected areas in North 24-Parganas, the administration is veering round to the view that a tough response at the outset could have prevented tensions from flaring up.
"An internal report of the home department has revealed that the police's hesitation in initiating stern action in the initial hours led the situation to snowball into a crisis on June 30 and July 1," said a source. "The same mistake will not be made.... You will see tough action."
The state government has identified certain administrative failures that helped fuel the rapid spread of the unrest.
"If the administration does not send out a strong message, the situation might spin out of control as fresh areas could turn into trouble zones," an official said.
The state government today shifted the inspector in charge of Basirhat. More heads are likely to roll in the next few days.
According to home department officials, those suspected of taking part in the attacks will be booked for rioting, promotion of disharmony, enmity or feeling of hatred, or attempt to murder. Any suspect charged with these offences will need to seek bail from a court.
Vandals may be charged under the state's property damage act, under which they can be forced to pay up. "If the charge of attempt to murder can be established, the suspects can be imprisoned for life," an official said.
According to sources, the chief minister had told officials that if the troublemakers were allowed a free run, it would encourage them to feel they were immune from legal action.
"The chief minister felt that if the state government failed to display its intent to handle such incidents firmly, it might embolden those who were involved, and others as well," a source said.

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