Tribal's Steaming Resentment Boiled Over On Monday
Express News Service
Ahmednagar, June 26: Puntamba, a tiny town once known for its connection with saints, has turned into a law and order hotspot over the last few days.
For decades, the town has had a history of land disputes, with the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC) and tribal members of the Bhoomi Sudhar Samiti as the rival protagonists.
Things came to a head with a minor girl’s rape, on June 18, allegedly by local Youth Congress leader Babasaheb Chavan, a married man in his forties. Puntamba police arrested him shortly after midnight on June 20, under IPC sections 354 and 504 and section 3(1)(10) of the Atrocities Act.
Chavan was granted bail on June 22. The local people resented the move and condemned it, blaming the police of bias. On Monday morning, around 300 tribals marched to Puntamba police outpost to protest.
Under the banner of Adivasi Sangram Parishad, the crowd was led by Pradeep Dushing. According to police, the protesters turned hostile and taunted them. They accused the police to their face of being biased. Then ASI R.J. Mali intervened.
He denied the tribals’ charge. It was then that a woman tribal slapped Mali and hit him with lathis, police said. A verbal row ensued when the tehsildar dissuaded the protesters from taking any drastic action.
Ahmednagar ASP Vijay Chavan said: ‘‘Mali first fired in the air. But the crowd did not budge. They pushed their way into the police station. Most were carrying swords, guptis, lathis, kerosene balls, bottles and stones. In self-defence, Mali and three constables fired upon the violent crowd. About 21 rounds were shot, only one of which misfired.’’
The tribals denied they were carrying weapons. Those injured, and now in the Civil Hospital, alleged they were ambushed when they ran for shelter to a shala, 200 feet from the police station.
The bullets hit three. Pradeep Dushing and Indu Bai Manjare died within hours.
For long, a 1,000 acres has been the bone of contention between the Bhoomi Sudhar Samiti and the MSFC. The corporation owns and cultivates the land. The samiti, however, uses 300 acres for its own use. Gorakh Laxman Pawar, one of the hurt, said: ‘‘It isn’t that we are cultivating the so-called fertile land of MSFC. The land belongs to us.’’
The MSFC has apparently sought police help to tackle encroachment. The Additional DSP said: ‘‘We do our job, by providing peaceful assistance during anti-encroachment drives.’’
But, according to Pawar: ‘‘Ever since Bhoomi Sudhar Samiti was formed, the police has been harassing us for petty reasons and locking us up for days,’’ Pawar said. ‘‘We are never granted bail within two days, the way Badasaheb was.’’
State orders inquiry Kopargaon: Maharashtra has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the police firing on the tribal rally that killed three and injured six. An SDO will head the probe and submit a report within a month, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal said at Puntamba on Tuesday.
He announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of the three deceased, and Rs 10,000 for the injured. The injured policemen too would get financial help. Bhujbal was accompanied by DGP Subhash Malhotra and several ministers on the Puntamba tour.