New Delhi: Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma slammed his state police for using force in an “unprovoked, uncontrolled and arbitrary” manner a day after six people were killed in violence along the border with Meghalaya.
Earlier in the day, a group of villagers from Meghalaya allegedly vandalised and burnt down a forest office in Assam’s West Karbi Anglong district and set ablaze two vehicles.
Sarma, who also holds the home portfolio, claimed that the interstate border is “peaceful”. He said, “I feel there was no need to fire to the extent the police did. The firing was a little unprovoked, and the police could have acted in a little more controlled manner.”
According to the police, force was used for defensive reasons during the clash.
“However, in my view, it (force) was used a little arbitrarily. That should not have happened,” the CM said.
Six people, including a forest guard, were killed in violence at a disputed location in West Karbi Anglong district along the Assam-Meghalaya border in the early hours of Tuesday, after a truck allegedly laden with illegal timber was intercepted.
Sarma said the Assam government is trying to do its bit “very sincerely”, and has already transferred the SP of West Karbi Anglong district, while some other officials have been suspended.
The Assam government has also ordered a judicial probe and urged the Union government to conduct a CBI or NIA investigation.
“We have not taken this as a prestige battle. If personnel of Assam Police were at fault, then they will also come under the ambit of investigation,” the chief minister said.
Assam and Meghalaya have a long-standing dispute in 12 areas along the 884.9-km-long inter-state border, and the location where the violence took place is one of those. But Sarma said the incident was not related to this dispute.
The two states had signed a memorandum of understanding in March this year towards ending the dispute in six of the areas.
Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972 and had since then challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act, 1971, which demarcated the border between the two states.
Fores office, vehicles vandalised
A group of villagers from Meghalaya allegedly vandalised and burnt down a forest office in Assam’s West Karbi Anglong district on Wednesday.
At least two vehicles – one in Mukroh village where the violence took place on Tuesday and another in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong – were set ablaze by a mob.
Armed with machetes, rods and sticks, residents of the village allegedly gathered in front of a beat office under the Kheroni Forest Range in Assam along the inter-state border on Tuesday night and set the structure on fire, the officials said.
The mob vandalised the forest office and torched properties such as furniture, documents and motorcycles parked in the complex, one of the officials said.
However, forest officers were not injured, he told PTI.
The villagers had left the area before a team of Assam policemen and other security officers reached the spot, he said.
An Assam government vehicle that was found abandoned at Mukroh village was torched by locals, another official said.
The influential Khasi Students’ Union took responsibility for the torching of the forest beat office and the Assam government vehicle at Mukroh and alleged that the MDA dispensation in Meghalaya failed to protect its citizens.
Members of the students’ union held demonstrations at the Ialong Civil Hospital where the bodies of all six people were brought for post-mortem examinations and demanded that those responsible for the killing be handed over to the Meghalaya Police.
Following reports of attacks on vehicles from Assam in Meghalaya, the Assam Police continued to advise car owners to avoid entering the neighbouring state for safety.
At various points to enter Meghalaya from Assam, including at Guwahati and in Cachar district, the police put up barricades and asked people not to travel to the hill state in a vehicle bearing a number plate from Assam.
Sources told PTI that a car with an Assam number plate was burnt in Shillong on Tuesday evening after miscreants asked the passengers to leave the vehicle.
In a tweet tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Sarma, Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma, whose party is an ally of the BJP, complained that the Assam police and forest guards “entered Meghalaya and resorted to unprovoked firing”.
Assam Police officials, however, asserted that the truck was intercepted in the West Karbi Anglong district of the state by a forest department team and a mob from Meghalaya had later attacked the forest guards and policemen from the state, which led to firing by the Assam side to bring the situation under control.
Five of the six killed at Mukroh village were Meghalaya residents and one is an Assam forest guard, Sangma said.
The Meghalaya CM announced an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh each for the next of kin of the deceased.
The Assam government too said that it will provide Rs 5 lakh to the families of each deceased as compensation.
A team of Meghalaya ministers will meet Amit Shah on November 24 to seek a central agency probe into the matter.
(With PTI inputs)