The death toll in the firing incident in Panisagar area of Tripura rose to two on Sunday with a fire service employee succumbing to his injuries, a police officer said. 43-year-old Srikanta Das, a carpenter who was among the protestors, was killed and at least 23 others were injured when police opened fire at picketers, who had blocked the Assam-Agartala National Highway at Panisagar in North Tripura district on Saturday, police said. The demonstrators were protesting against a government plan to rehabilitate over 6,000 Brus in Kanchanpur sub- division.
Biswajit Debbarma, a fire service personnel, who was injured by the protesters and admitted at GBP Hospital with polytrauma and head injuries died early Sunday, Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) of New Capital Complex, Piya Madhuri Majumder said.
Locally known as "Assam-Agartala Road", the NH-8 is often called the lifeline of Tripura as it connects the state with the rest of the country. The Joint Movement Committee (JMC), comprising Bengalis and local Mizos, had called an indefinite bandh in Kanchanpur and had blocked the highway on Saturday.
Trouble started, when a contingent of police and paramilitary, including Tripura State Rifles (TSR), was involved in a scuffle with JMC activists following an altercation over withdrawal of the road blockade. JMC convenor Sushanta Baruah alleged that police personnel had opened fire on the protestors "who were demonstrating peacefully" while ADG Rajiv Singh said the police was compelled to fire in self defence since the crowd had turned unruly and tried to snatch weapons from the security personnel.
Meanwhile, JMC chairman Zairemthiama Pachuau said, the indefinite strike, which entered its seventh day on Sunday, is continuing at Kanchanpur. "The situation is calm, but tense. We are waiting to discuss the situation with a government delegation, comprising a minister and some MLAs, which is likely to be held here at 4 pm.
"State minister for Social Welfare Shantana Chakma informed us that the delegation is on way from Agartala, about 200 km from here', Pachuau told PTI over phone. The state government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the police firing and has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the family of the deceased.
State Law minister Ratan Lal Nath, who is also the cabinet spokesperson, said that the probe would be conducted by district magistrate of North Tripura, Nagesh Kumar, and he would submit the report "within one month".
Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb chaired a meeting with Deputy Chief Minister Jishnu Devbarma in presence of Director General of Police V S Yadav and Additional Director General of Police Rajiv Singh and took stock of the situation on Saturday night, Nath told reporters here.
The Bru issue had started in September 1997 following demands of a separate autonomous district council by carving out areas of western Mizoram adjoining Bangladesh and Tripura. About 30,000 Bru tribals had then fled Mizoram due to the ethnic tension there and took shelter in refugee camps in Tripura.
The first attempt to repatriate the Brus was made in November 2009 by the Centre along with the governments of Tripura and Mizoram. However, the effort had met with little success. A quadripartite accord was signed among the Union Home Ministry, state governments of Mizoram and Tripura and leaders of Bru refugees in January this year to permanently settle Bru evacuees in Tripura.
The Centre sanctioned Rs 600 crore as rehabilitation package for the displaced Brus as a final solution to the 23-year-old imbroglio. The JMC chairman had told newsmen recently that the North Tripura district magistrate had assured that 1,500 families would be settled in the area."But now the government is trying to settle 6,000 families," he said.