Malda (MLDT): A Railway Protection Force (RPF) constable was stoned to death and two policemen sustained injuries as hundreds of hawkers fought pitched battles with the police during a drive to evict them from the railway premises in northern West Bengal’s Malda town on Monday, officials said.
“Enraged over the anti-hawking drive, a large number of hawkers attacked the RPF armoury and a food plaza. They also threw stones and cold drinks bottles at the RPF personnel leading to the death of constable S. Samanta,” Malda divisional railway manager (DRM) Rajesh Argal said.
Even as the RPF constable was being thrashed, the security personnel fired several rounds in the air to disperse the mob, said a police officer.
The RPF constable was rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead.
Two other constables were also injured in the attack.
Police said they have registered a complaint.
“An FIR of unnatural death has been registered and we will be conducting raids. The victim was stoned by a couple of people at very close quarters,” Malda Superintendent of Police Prasun Banerjee said.
Police said no one has been detained so far.
“We are yet to receive any communication from the railway police on this,” the police official said.
Claiming that police personnel have been snatching away their goods and also extorting money, the hawkers had earlier this month staged a demonstration outside the DRM office against the alleged police atrocities and demanded they be allowed to carry on their business at the station.
Railway officials said there were 632 unauthorised hawkers at the station.
“We have explained to them in the past that we cannot allow unauthorised hawkers on the platform as per rules,” Argal said.
Some newspapers reported that the incident has political links that led to a series of violent incidents in West Bengal on Monday, which claimed the life of one Railway Protection Force (RPF) Constable dead and left several others injured. Media alleged that the incident occurred at Malda Railway Station in North Bengal, when irate hawkers, armed with iron rods, attacked RPF Constables when they were prevented from selling their wares without valid licences.
Even as the deceased Constable suffered fatal head injuries in the violence, the RPF fired 13 rounds in the air and chased down the hawkers, who vandalised the shops and looted them.
Violence continued unabated in Birbhum district, where clashes have been taking place between the TMC and the BJP workers since last week, as bombs were again hurled at Gorapara village.
Clashes between the two parties have been going on in the region for a while as a large number of Muslims have been deserting the TMC to join the saffron party.
The TMC workers, armed with bombs and firearms, have been attacking those villages to regain their lost ground, as Birbhum is considered to be a stronghold of the ruling party.
In Nanur region, in the same district, rival groups of TMC workers threw bombs and fired at each other. The police seized 100 live bombs from a village there.
In neighbouring Howrah district, the president of TMC students wing Abhik Taki suffered head injuries at the Industrial Training Institute when he visited the campus. The students alleged that the TMC students wing general secretary of the institute Niamat Ali had been resorting to illegal activities and hosting parties in which narcotics were used.
What RPF says
The lynching of Samarendra Samanta, 35, by suspected hawkers not only lengthens the list of law-enforcers attacked in Bengal but also underscores the transformation of a politically blessed pressure group into a Frankenstein’s monster.
Samanta, a member of the RPF which is a central force, was killed after around 300 hawkers stormed the camp at the Malda Town station. The constable’s daughter is aged not more than three.
The murder comes two months after chief minister Mamata Banerjee promised illegal vendors in the state “legal rights with a free trade licence”. Railway premises do not fall under the zones that will be earmarked for hawkers.
An RPF drive to remove hawkers has been going on for the past two to three months in Malda. The divisional railway manager in Malda said the effort was in line with the Railway Board’s instructions not to allow any unauthorised person on the premises of a station.
No political party or union wants the hawkers removed from the platforms, and all denied the involvement of any of their members in the attack on the RPF jawans.
Unions backed by or sympathetic to the Trinamul Congress, the Congress or the BJP said the livelihoods of around 700 people depended on hawking food and refreshments to train passengers and they should not be removed.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), which leans towards the BJP on some issues, alleged that the hawkers had turned violent after some RPF jawans thrashed a vendor, Jhoton Das, selling eatables on a platform. The RPF denied the charge.
S.S. Tewari, the RPF commandant, said the violence was started by hawkers who were demanding permission to ply their trade in the station. “The hawkers started ransacking legitimate stalls at the station. When our jawans tried to resist, they were attacked with lathis and stones.”
He said the jawans fled the platform and entered the RPF camp office, a few metres away. The hawkers gave chase.
The officer said Samanta, standing on the RPF camp verandah around 1pm, was “hit repeatedly with bricks and stones and killed on the spot. Our men, who were outnumbered, had to fire in the air in order to disperse the attackers. At least six of our jawans were injured,” Tewari said.
The divisional railway manager of Eastern Railway’s Malda division, Rajesh Argal, said he would send a report to the state government and the railway authorities on the jawan’s death.
“We have instructions from the Railway Board that no unauthorised person should be allowed on station premises. The drive against unauthorised hawkers has been going on for the past three months. The action by the RPF jawans today to evict the unauthorised hawkers was part of the drive. The hawkers attacked and murdered an RPF jawan without provocation,” Argal said.
No one had been arrested for the murder till this evening.