Activists of the Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association (GCPA), an outfit demanding creation of a separate state, withdrew their four-daylong rail blockade on Tuesday afternoon after the armed police intervened to stop their agitation.
Yet another person died after being stuck inside a long distance train for hours because of disruption in services. This has taken the total number of deaths to three in the last three days.
Train services in North Bengal were severely disrupted since Saturday after the GCPA men squatted on the tracks at New Cooch Behar station.
On Tuesday, the station turned into a battlefield following a clash between the police and agitators. Trouble started when a police battalion was deployed to disperse the squatters who turned violent and pelted stones on them. Police resorted to lathicharge, lobbed teargas shells, used water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse the mob. Some policemen and agitators sustained injuries during the clash. The blockade had crippled rail services particularly in North Bengal and also in some parts of North-East such as in Assam.
Most of the long distance trains were cancelled and those plying were diverted through the alterative Alipurduar-Sevok route having numerous elephant corridors. On Tuesday, the police had swung into action after the agitators remained adamant and continued the blockade. They were demanding the Centre’s assurance for their demand of a separate Cooch Behar state.
State administrative officials in Cooch Behar district said that force was used only after the agitators stared pelting stones on policemen. Banshi Badan Burman, the GCPA general secretary, said “We have decided to withdraw the blockade after holding a meeting with the officials.”
He added, “The use of force by the police was due to the misunderstanding between the police and the agitators.” Mahesh Roy, the organising secretary of Kamtapur Progressive Party (KPP), which is supporting the GCPA movement, said, “Many agitators have suffered serious injuries and the conditions of some of them are critical. Police used force on peaceful agitators who were carrying the photos of Mahatma Gandhi,” said Roy.
Raj Kanojia, the director general of West Bengal police (intelligence branch) who was in Cooch Behar to oversee the situation, said, “We have taken necessary action to lift the blockade.” He said reports that the agitators hurled bombs on the police are being verified.
Sanjiv Kishor, the divisional railway manager (DRM) of Alipurduar, said, “We are ready to resume normal services as and when we get clearance from the police.” He said at least 50 trains were affected by the blockade. Many trains were either cancelled or services truncated. The GCPA has been agitating for the creation of separate Cooch Behar state since early 2000. It came into limelight when three policemen, including one IPS officer and two of its supporters, died on September 20, 2005, when its indefinite hunger strike that continued for four days turned violent.
On Monday night, Rahima Khatun (55), a resident of Chapra in Bihar, died inside coach number S6 of Tinsukia-Rajendranagar Express. Khatun was travelling alone to Bihar and last night her body was taken out at Alipurduar railway station.
The train was running more than nine hours late due to the blockade. Railway officials said she had gone to Tinsukia’s Rampur to see her relative and was returning by sleeper class when she fell ill. On Sunday, Binay Kumar Thakur, a passenger from Bihar’s Kisanganj, died while retur ning from Guwahati after he suffered from heart attack. On Monday, Khem Bahadur Chettri (39) a passenger from Assam was found dead at Alipurduar railway station after he reached the station.
The CPM and Forward Bloc alleged that the state government was playing politics. The parties said the state should have used force on the first day itself.