Darjeeling Hills descended into further chaos on Saturday after violence claimed lives of three members of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and left one police officer critically injured. The hills which have been on the boil for the past 10 days over a separate Gorkhaland state demand witnessed widespread clashes between GJM activists and the police.
The GJM claimed that three of its activists were killed in the police firing, a charge West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and top police officials of the state rejected. The clashes that continued througout the day left 35 security personnel injured, including an IRB officer seriously.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) workers hurled petrol bombs, stones and bottles at the police at several places which led the security forces to lob teargas shells and resort to baton-charge to disperse the mobs, a police official said.
Army contingents were deployed to control the situation and they staged flag marches in several areas of the violence-hit hill district, where the indefinite shutdown to press for a separate Gorkhaland entered the third day.
Singmari in Darjeeling turned into a battleground as GJM activists threw petrol bombs and stones at the anti-riot police personnel, who fired teargas shells and lathi-charged the agitators.
The incident, in which several people were injured, prompted the administration to deploy the Army.
Besides Singmari, clashes also took place at Lebongcart Road, Chowkbazar and Ghum, where the country's highest railway station is located.
The GJM identified its three dead members as Bimal Sashankar of Goke Basti, Sunil Rai of Kainjalay and Mahesh Gurung of Relling.
GJM chief Bimal Gurung said the deceased members were martyrs of the Gorkhaland movement.
"They are martyrs of the Gorkhaland movement. The people of the hills will not stop until and unless Gorkhaland is achieved," Gurung said in a statement from an undisclosed location.
"The final battle is on. Either we get our right or die fighting for it," he said.
'No police firing,' Govt rejects GJM's claim
Gurung's claim was dismissed by West Bengal ADG (law and order) Anuj Sharma who confirmed only one death.
Sharma said in Kolkata that one person was killed at Singmari and around 35 policemen were injured, 19 of them seriously. This was the first death since violent protests returned to Darjeeling on June 8, after a gap of a few years.
"The police did not open fire. Not a single bullet was fired, It was the GJM which was firing at us," he said.
The police said seven GJM supporters were arrested for their alleged involvement in the violence.
Giving details of the Singmari incident, a senior police officer said prohibitory orders were in force in the area and the police told the protesters, who were carrying the tricolour and GJM flags, to return.
The slogan-shouting protesters did not relent and started throwing petrol bombs, stones and bottles at the police, he said. A number of police vehicles were set on fire, he said.
"We asked them to go back, but they started throwing stones, bottles and petrol bombs. We had to resort to lathi- charge," the official said.
ADG Sharma told PTI, "We are waiting for the postmortem report, but it seems that the man died of gunshot wound.
"We are trying to identify the person, but going by the preliminary investigation it seems that he is a local," he said.
"Law will take its own course. We will arrest anybody found violating law and order in the hills. The police will be tough." he said.
Barring pharmacies, all others shops and hotels were closed in Darjeeling, one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the country.
Meanwhile, GJM leaders claimed that Vikram Rai, son of GJM MLA Amar Rai, was 'picked up' by the police from Darjeeling.
Vikram is the in-charge of the GJM's media cell.
The police last night raided the residence of senior GJM leader Binay Tamang, following which party activists tried to torch a PWD office in Bijanbari area in the hill town.
(With PTI inputs)