Amid allegations of police firing, 33 people – 27 policemen and six villagers – were injured in pitched battles early Tuesday in West Bengal’s Birbhum district over a long-time dispute regarding land acquisition for an open cast mine, officials said.
The injured also included three police officers. Some police vehicles were also set on fire and damaged during the clashes which occurred at Loba village under Dubrajpur police station, about 226 km from here.
“A total 27 police personnel and six villagers have been injured. Two of the villagers and some of the policemen are serious. The injured are being treated at Suri Hospital and Burdwan Medical College and Hospital,” state Home Secretary Basudeb Bandopadhyay told mediapersons at the state secretariat here.
Joydeep Mazumdar, secretary of the Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee (Save Farmland Committee) in the troubled area, said over 20 villagers sustained injuries when they were attacked by the police.
“Around 1,000 policemen came to our village early in the morning and suddenly attacked us with batons. They wanted to move a machinery, against which we protested. Then they opened fire, injuring several of us,” said Mazumdar.
However, Bandopadhay denied the allegation. “There was no police firing. The district police superintendent has informed me that the medical reports of the injured did not mention any remnant of bullets,” he said.
Trinamool Congress parliamentarian from Birbhum Shatabdi Roy initially said she had heard about police firing.
“Yes, I have heard that the police have fired and some villagers have been injured. Some policemen have also been injured. Industrialisation is necessary but not at the cost of people’s life,” said Roy.
But the actress-turned Trinamool MP did a volte-face soon after and said the police had not opende fire.
The confrontation related to coal extraction by a joint venture company, DVC Emta Coal Mines Ltd., as some land owners opposed additional land acquisition for the project and seized one earth-moving machine deployed by the firm in the village.
“The villagers had refused to let go an earth-moving equipment of the company in 2011, following which it lodged a police complaint. When a police force reached the spot to recover it last night, they were attacked. We have heard the villagers used bows and arrows and bombs,” said Bandopadhyay.
A police source blamed lack of intelligence on the part of the authorities. “We had no idea that so many people had gathered at the spot,” the source told IANS.
“Three police officers of the rank of officers-in-charge were injured as the villagers shot arrows. But none of them is serious,” the source added.
Mazumdar said: “We also want industries. But to acquire land, the company must give adequate compensation, and look at issues like employment of the displaced, because a number of villages will disappear if the land is acquired.”
Bandopadhyay said the company, which had been allotted a coal block, had gone for direct purchase of land and started work in 2010 in Kahirashol and Dubrajpur blocks.
“Since then, there was a dispute with the villagers. In 2011, the villagers had forcibly seized the earth moving equipment taken by the company to the village,” he said.
Bandopadhyay said the fact that so many policemen were injured and police vehicles were damaged showed that the security forces had shown “enough patience”.
The home secretary said the district magistrate has been asked to solve the dispute administratively through discussions.
Asked how the police had confronted the rampaging mob without firing, Bandopadhyay evaded a direct reply. “You draw your own conclusions,” he said, abruptly ending the media meet.