Cornered mukhiya pleads innocence

Ramdas MinzFour persons, including the mukhiya of Bargarh panchayat Ramdas Minz, have been detained in connection with the landmine blast that killed 13 security personnel today in Salo forest, about 65km from Garhwa district headquarters in Bhandaria block, even as four persons abducted from the spot remained traceless.

Though district superintendent of police Michael Raj S. would not confirm the detentions, insisting that “efforts were on to nab the persons responsible”, a visit to Bargarh police picket revealed a different picture. Minz, along with fellow villagers Fida Hussain, Budhlal Kerketta and Mahfooz Ansari could be seen sitting inside as their relatives pleaded with picket in-charge Shibu Kujur to release them. Kujur said it was Minz who masterminded today’s blast.  “The police had seized two massive wood logs from Minz three months ago, following which he threatened us with dire consequences. On January 18, he had tried to instigate about 150 villagers, including some Maoists, to take revenge on the police,” Kujur said, adding that today, Minz organised a demonstration against the construction of a primary health centre in Bargarh.

Minz alleged that the centre was being constructed without the approval of the gram sabha and created enough ruckus to compel policemen from Bhandaria police station and the BDO to head for Bargarh, 16km away, at 10.30am. They were barely 4km away from the village when the landmine blast was triggered around noon.

Minz, however, insisted he was innocent and had no role to play in the incident. “It is a fact that I organised a demonstration to protest against the construction of a primary health centre, but I did not connive with the Maoists. I think my enemies informed the rebels about my programme and used the opportunity to defame me by killing innocent policemen,” he said.

Asked why he was opposing the construction of a public health centre, which would not only benefit the people of Bargarh but also villagers from Chhattisgarh, which was barely a kilometre away, he said it was because the gram sabha had already decided to construct a health centre at Mahua Tiker, about 1km from the spot chosen by the administration.

Meanwhile, there was still no word about the fate of zilla parishad chairperson Sushma Mehta, her aide Javed Akhtar, bodyguard and driver, who were abducted from the spot by the Maoists after the attack. The four had been accompanying the BDO to the village. “Efforts are on to find those abducted,” zonal IG Rezi Dungdung said.

According to unconfirmed reports, the Maoists have set two conditions for the release of the four. They have demanded removal of the police picket from Bargarh village and a halt to anti-Naxalite operations. The police, however, said they were not aware of the demands.

At the site of the landmine blast, uneaten food, probably brought by the rebels, Maoist posters and blood-soaked shoes and caps served as eerie reminder of today’s mayhem. A foot-deep trench under a tree indicated the spot from where the rebels triggered the blast, which left a 12ft by 4ft crater on the road.   Locals said it was the second time a landmine blast had been triggered at the spot. “In 2001, a vehicle of deputy superintendent of police Amlesh Kumar was blown up about 30 metres away from today’s spot. Kumar was killed with four constables,” a villager said. The fear among villagers living in the vicinity was obvious. The Sunday market, usually a crowded affair, was almost deserted, as residents chose not to step out of home.

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