10 killed in UP gunfight between 2 groups over property dispute
A village head and his supporters allegedly opened fire on a rival group over a land dispute in Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra, killing 10 people, including three women, and leaving 19 injured on Wednesday, the police said.
The 90 bighas of land in contention once belonged to an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who sold it to village head Yagya Dutt about two years ago, Uttar Pradesh director general of police (DGP) OP Singh said. Dutt wanted to take possession of the land.
Inspector general (law and order) Praveen Kumar said the clash took place in a remote place under the Ghorawal police station area on Wednesday morning.
When Dutt reached the site with his men in 10 to 12 tractors, local villagers tried to stop him from taking over the land by hurling stones, the police said. Those accompanying Dutt then retaliated by showering bullets on the protesters, all tribal people, killing nine of them.
Another villager who was injured in the clash later died of his injuries.
A local, who did not wish to be identified, said the villagers had been using the land for farming for decades and were not willing to give possession of it.
Another villager, Vijay Kumar, a resident of Ubhha village, who was present at the site, said the village head and his men reached the place and began plowing the land. “We opposed the move. Then his men attacked us with canes and we ran. In our defence, we began hurling stones at the pradhan’s accomplices who opened fire indiscriminately in which nine persons were killed and many others were injured,” Kumar said.
Hours after the clash, a group of women in tears sat at the blood-splattered spot, mourning the loss of their kin.
Ashok Gond, 35, who was admitted to a government hospital in Sonbhadra and who later died of injures, said the villagers were working on the field when armed men attacked them.
“”We did not get a chance to talk or retaliate. They came in tractors, armed with guns and sticks to grab our land,” he told PTI.
Another villager who was injured, Terwa Devi, 50, alleged that Dutt had fraudulently got possession of the land. “It seemed that he (Dutt) came determined to kill those who came in his way.”
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra attacked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh over the incident. They said the shootout reflected the law and order situation in the state.
“The Sonbhadra incident is heart-rending and has caught the administration, CM and ministers napping,” Gandhi said.
DGP Singh said the police had arrested Girijesh and Vimlesh, both nephews of the village head, and were trying to trace him as well. “We have also alerted the Madhya Pradesh Police, and, if needed, action against the IAS officer will also be initiated,” Singh said.
He refused to name the IAS officer who once owned the land.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath directed the DGP to personally monitor the case and ensure action against those responsible for the attack, a government spokesperson said. Adityanath also directed the Mirzapur commissioner and additional director general (Varanasi zone) to jointly investigate the cause of the clash and fix responsibility within 24 hours.
“The village consisted of a population of around 300 families. Among them 150 are of Bhurkiya community and 125 belong to the Gond community. All are peace-loving,” said a villager, who did not want to be named.
All the dead belonged to the Gond tribe. The condition of some of the 19 injured was said to be critical, the police said.
Mineral-rich Sonbhadra, about 400km from the state capital, is the second largest district in Uttar Pradesh and the only one in the country sharing a boundary with four other states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattishgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. The district has several power plants and is sometimes called the country’s “energy capital”.
(With agency inputs)