Violence over irregularities in relief distribution in West Bengal

Published : April 22, 2020 21:15 IST

A file picture of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee distributing relief packages to people during the lockdown. Photo: AFP

Baduria in Basirhat subdivision of North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal turned into a virtual war zone on April 22, as the local people waged a pitched battle with the police while agitating over irregularities in the distribution of relief. Several policemen were injured badly in the clash, including the officer in charge of Baduria police station.

The region had been simmering with discontent for a while, with the local people staging agitations either over lack of relief or irregularities in ration distribution. There have also been allegations against the ruling Trinamool Congress of discrimination on the basis of political affiliations while distributing relief. Matters came to a head when on the morning of April 22 a large police force was deployed to quell a protest, a road blockade, being staged by the local people. The grievance of the people was that they were not receiving relief during the lockdown period.

The protesters, including women, attacked the police with bricks and sticks, compelling the law enforcers to call for reinforcements. Finally the police resorted to a lathi charge to disperse the agitating crowd. More than 20 people were arrested in connection with the violence. There have been angry outbursts by the public in different parts of West Bengal over ration and relief distribution in the lockdown period, but this is the first time that public anger spilled over on to the streets in violent reaction against the State police.

Food and Supplies Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick, who is in charge of North 24 Parganas district for the Trinamool Congress, said the violence was orchestrated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that there were no irregularities in relief and ration distribution. “The local BJP leader Ram Das gave leadership to the agitation and road blockade. It was Ram Das who planned the attack against the police. The incident proved that the BJP has been provoking people in the State to take law into their own hands,” said Mullick.

The BJP denied having any hand in the violence. “This has nothing to do with the BJP. It has to do with starving people being denied any relief. The people there were peacefully demanding relief to feed their children. In other States relief is brought to the people, in Bengal people have to take to the streets to demand relief, and in return face the lathis of the police,” BJP president of Basirhat, Tarak Ghosh told Frontline.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the violence in Baduria was not over government ration. “In many places NGOs are helping out (with relief), political parties are helping out with relief bought by their own money. How much relief they will be able to disburse depends upon them. The government has promised to give 5 kg of ration, and we have given 5 kg of ration,” said Mamata.

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