MOTIHARI:Around 15-20 persons were injured when the police opened fire to quell a mob, which resorted to brickbatting after two employees of a sugar factory tried to immolate themselves here on Monday.
The incident coincided with the commencement of centenary celebrations of the Champaran satyagrah of Mahatma Gandhi, causing some embarrassment to the state government. Gandhi had visited Champaran in 1917 to espouse the cause of indigo farmers.
Around 200-300 workers of a local sugar factory, since shut, were demanding release of unpaid wages since 2002. The immolation bid, announced earlier, was part of the ongoing agitation for the last four days. Naresh Srivastava, 54, with 70% burn, and Suraj Baitha, 50, with 50% burn, were rushed in a critical condition to the Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH), around 150 kms from here.
Eyewitnesses said the district administration initially did not take the immolation threat seriously. However, when the matter worsened, the district administration sent in a magistrate with police reinforcement. Seeing the cops, two workers staging a sit-in, jumped into the fire, which was ignited using firewood and rubber tyres.
As the two persons burned, agitators resorted to brickbatting. Seeing the rampaging mob, the police initially resorted to baton charge and then lobbed teargas shells. When matters worsened, the cops opened fire, injuring nearly 15-20 persons in the melee, some reportedly receiving splinter injuries.
East Champaran superintendent of police Jitendra Rana said that no one was injured when police fired in the air to dispel the mob. He, however, admitted that some policemen and civilians were hurt in the brickbatting and subsequent police caning. He said police had to fire three rounds in the air and lobbed 17 teargas shells to control the mob.
Sources said that one Harjit Baitha, an employee of the factory, received splinter injuries in his leg.
Aniket Pandey, general secretary of the sugar factory labour union who received head injuries, said the police were trying to frame him because he tried to save those who were trying to immolate themselves.
Manoj Sah, another protestor, alleged that the police used brute force and chased down peaceful protestors, including women, and beat them mercilessly. He said that many were injured in the police firing, but were not getting themselves treated in government health facilities for fear of being implicated in false cases by the police.
Additional collector Arshad Ali said that the police had on Sunday met the protestors and assured them of an audience with the district magistrate on Monday. As soon as the cops reached the venue, the protestors began pelting stones and a couple of them tried to immolate themselves, he added.
Governor Ramnath Kovind is scheduled to visit here on April 13 as part of Champaran satyagrah celebrations, followed by chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is expected to participate in the proposed satyagrah smriti yatra on April 18. The incident has cast a shadow on the celebrations.