Another special economic zone (SEZ), another protest. Only the clash that occurred in Nandigram was even worse than the one at Singur. Six people were feared killed and many more injured when farmers and CPI(M) cadres engaged in a pitched battle at Nandigram in East Midnapur district in the early hours of Sunday over the acquisition of land for an SEZ.
The two sides lobbed crude bombs at each other and exchanged gunfire for about four hours, according to eyewitnesses. Milan Pradhan, a villager, said the trouble actually started at 6 pm on Saturday at Sonachura village, where the CPI(M) activists had set up three camps and erected bamboo structures. The protesting villagers were camping a little distance away.
As night set in, bombs were hurled from both directions. The two groups had taken up positions on either side of a bridge across a canal. The fight turned ugly after 2.30 am – people were seen collapsing as bullets found their mark.
After sunrise the spot looked like a battle zone. Six dead bodies were found. They were identified as those of Bharat Mondal, Anukul Patra, 16-year-old Biswajit Maiti, Basudeb Mondal, Sheikh Salim (all from Sonachura village) and Sankar Samanta. Salim's head had split in two after being hit by a bullet. Bhudeb Mondal's stomach was ripped open after a hurled bomb struck him.
The district magistrate and superintendent of police of East Midnapur have been officially reprimanded by Home Secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy for failing to stop the clashes. State Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty too has criticised the police.
CPI(M) central committee member Benoy Konar sought to explain away the police's inaction by arguing that had the police tried to forcibly cross the barricades put up by the villagers, there could have been large scale bloodshed, as those resisting land acquisition at Nandigram were well armed.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee himself added that he had instructed the district officials to act with caution. "I have asked the district administration to exercise restraint. A section of people in the area are being mislead," he said.