Birbhum clashes pre-planned, says Mamata
Describing as "pre-planned" but "unfortunate" Tuesday's clashes in Lobo village of Birbhum district where 33 persons, including 27 policemen were injured, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Wednesday announced a probe.
Banerjee denied any police excesses and maintained that the policemen did not open fire at protestors.
District Superintendent of Police Rishikesh Meena, however, has been asked to proceed on leave after it turned out that the district police acted "of its own" to raid the village without consulting higher-ups in state police or the government.
The clashes occurred in a confrontation related to coal extraction by DVC Emta Coal Mines Ltd, a joint venture company at Dubrajpur, about 226 km from Kolkata.
Some landowners had opposed additional land acquisition for the project, and seized an earth-moving machine last year.
The villagers refused to let go of the company's earth-moving equipment they had captured, after which it lodged a police complaint.
The police force led by Meena went to recover the machine, but met resistance from the villagers.
Among those injured in the clashes were three senior police officers.
Banerjee said state Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee has been sent to the troubled area to ascertain details and talk to villagers and the coal mining company to find a solution that was mutually acceptable.
"The incident is unfortunate and should not have happened. I am sorry. The villagers are not at fault. They were provoked by some people who spread lies and pre-planned it. As per reports with me, the police did not fire. During the confrontation, a couple of villagers sustained serious injuries. One policeman is battling for survival while three are serious," Banerjee said.
However, Krishi Jomi Rakha Committee (Save Farmland Committee) secretary Joydeep Mazumdar has alleged that over 20 villagers sustained injuries when they were attacked by policemen, who rained batons and then opened fire.
Denying that the matter related to land acquisition, Banerjee said the government policy was not to acquire land forcibly for industries.
While ruling out any action against the villagers, Banerjee also lauded the police for "showing patience and not over-reacting despite being hit by arrows".
"I assure the villagers that no action will be taken against them. We were, we are and we will be with the villagers, we are with peasants. We won't deviate from our policy of not taking land forcibly," the chief minister told media persons at the state secretariat Writers' Buildings.
Banerjee said Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Surojit Kar Purokayastha has been asked to hold an inquiry and ascertain the circumstances that led to the clashes and who were behind it. "Once we get the report, we will decide on the next course of action," she said.
Terming the incident "mysterious", Banerjee said it was wrong to compare it with what happened at Singur and Nandigram during the Left Front regime.
Singur in Hooghly district and Nandigram in East Midnapore district were on the boil following a sustained peasant movement led by then opposition leader Banerjee's Trinamool Congress against what she alleged was "forcible" land acquisition by the erstwhile Left Front rulers between 2006 and 2008.
The twin agitations played a big part in bringing the Trinamool to power in last year's polls to the state assembly and toppled the Left Front from its over three decades of unbroken rule.
Banerjee said the district police did not keep either the state police officers or the government posted of the raids in advance.
"The norm is to discuss such matters at the state level. But our senior officers did not have any information. The SP has been asked to go on leave," she said.