Durgapur, Jan. 29: Villagers protesting the construction of a wall at an IISCO site in Burnpur today hurled bombs and bricks at police saying it would block the way to a pond that serves as a waste-water reservoir.
The protesters, residents of Burnpur’s Dharampur, had halted work on a 20ft stretch at the expansion site of the IISCO Steel Plant as it would “affect the drainage system in the locality”.
IISCO authorities, however, said “local smugglers” were trying to prevent the construction of the 10ft-high wall as it would become difficult for them to steal scrap iron and coal.
They said a 5km stretch in the area had already been walled but the 20ft gap had to be left because of protests for the past fortnight.
“The gap leads to the plant’s scrap iron and coal yards. We have to plug the gap to stop the smugglers from entering the premises,” said Mohammad E. Shamsi, the assistant general manager (personnel) of the steel plant.
Around 11am today, plant officials led by Shamsi went to Dharampur to start work on the 20ft stretch. A large police contingent had already barricaded the area because a 1,000-strong mob had been protesting since morning.
“As soon as our labourers began work, the protesters started hurling bricks and stones at us. They demanded that work be stopped immediately,” Shamsi said.
Several protesters broke the iron barricade and started moving towards the expansion site, around 50 metres from the village. When the police cane-charged the protesters, they retaliated by throwing bricks. “Suddenly, the protesters started hurling bombs at us, forcing us to step back,” an officer said.
After about half an hour, another police team led by Debarshi Dutta, the deputy superintendent of the Asansol line, arrived at the spot. When another cane-charge did not help, the police had to fire tear-gas shells to disperse the mob.
Three policemen suffered injuries after being hit by bricks. Dutta said a police team had been deployed and work was on at the spot. Four persons have been arrested.
The police, too, said there was rampant theft of scrap iron and coal from the IISCO site.
Jafar Ali Khan, the local CPM councillor of the Asansol Municipal Corporation, however, supported the villagers. “If the local people steal coal and scrap iron from the yard, what is the CISF doing? Why don’t they stop the pilferage? asked Khan, who rushed to the area after learning about the protest.
“The local people have repeatedly said the drainage system of the village will be affected if the wall is erected on that 20ft stretch. All the waste water and rainwater flows into that pond. If the gap is plugged, it will also lead to severe waterlogging in the village,” Khan said.