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Posted on Nov 06, 10:00PM | IANS
An old dispute over land acquisition for coal mining Tuesday triggered clashes in West Bengal's Birbhum district amid allegations of police firing, leaving 27 policemen and six villagers injured.
The villagers said the police opened fire, but the government denied it.
Some police vehicles were set on fire and damaged during the clashes in Loba village in Dubrajpur, 226 km from here. Among the injured were three senior police officers.
Twenty-seven police personnel and six villagers were injured, Home Secretary Basudeb Bandopadhyay told reporters at the state secretariat here.
The condition of two villagers and some policemen was serious, he said.
However, Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee (Save Farmland Committee) secretary Joydeep Mazumdar said over 20 villagers sustained injuries when they were attacked by policemen.
"Around 1,000 policemen came to our village early in the morning and attacked us with batons. They wanted to move a machinery, against which we protested. Then they opened fire, injuring several of us," said Mazumdar.
The villagers said a woman received bullet injuries on her legs.
However, the home secretary 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," Bandopadhyay said.
Trinamool Congress parliamentarian from Birbhum Shatabdi Roy initially said she had heard about police firing, but later did a U-turn and said the police had not fired.
The confrontation was related to coal extraction by DVC Emta Coal Mines Ltd, a joint venture company.
Some landowners had opposed additional land acquisition for the project and seized an earth-moving machine last year.
The villagers refused to let go an earth-moving equipment of the company, following which it lodged a police complaint, said Bandopadhyay.
"When a police force reached the spot to recover it, they were attacked. We have heard the villagers used bows and arrows and bombs," he said.
A police source blamed the incident on the lack of intelligence from the authorities.
"We had no idea so many people had gathered," the source told IANS.
"We also want industries. But to acquire land, the company must give adequate compensation, and arrange for employment of the displaced," said Joydeep Mazumdar.
But Bandopadhyay said the company, which was allotted the coal block, had directly purchased land and started work in Khairashol and Dubrajpur blocks this year.
"Since then, there was a dispute with the villagers. In 2011, the villagers forcibly seized the equipment," he said.
Bandopadhyay said the fact that so many policemen sustained injuries and police vehicles were damaged showed that the security forces had shown "enough patience".
The home secretary said the district magistrate had been asked to solve the dispute through discussions.
Asked how the police confronted the mob without firing, Bandopadhyay evaded a direct reply.
"You draw your own conclusions," he said, abruptly ending the press meet.
Opposition parties attacked the government for the alleged firing and demanded a through probe.
In a statement, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state committee said: "The government must provide compensation to the injured villagers and bear the cost for the treatment. There must be a full-scale inquiry".
CPI-M's peasant wing Paschim Banga Krishak Sabha claimed miscreants and Trinamool leaders had accompanied the police.
"We demand the interests of the farmers and villagers be protected during land acquisition," the group's general secretary Nripen Chowdhury said in a statement.
Questioning the government version that the police did not fire, state Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya called for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe.
"I want to ask how the villagers got injured. Is it believable that the police did not retaliate? For the truth to come out, it is essential that the matter be probed by the CBI," Bhattacharya told mediapersons here.