Police had no other option: R.R. Patil

The Maharashtra government will conduct a magisterial inquiry into Monday's police firing at Jaitapur, Home Minister R.R. Patil announced in the Assembly on Tuesday. The violent fallout of protests against the proposed nuclear power plant was hotly discussed in both Houses of the Legislature with the Opposition accusing the government of highhandedness and totalitarianism.

Mr. Patil maintained that the police resorted to firing when all other methods of controlling the mob had failed. However, “as is the case with any incident of police firing, a magisterial inquiry will be conducted into the Jaitapur incident,” he told the House at the conclusion of a three-hour discussion.

Highlighting the Shiv Sena's role, Mr. Patil said intelligence reports pointed to a conspiracy to disrupt work at the plant site.

“On April 15, Jairam Ramesh [Union Minister for Environment and Forests] had said that there would be no rethink on the project. Some days ago, Sena leaders had gone to Jaitapur and announced that they would not allow the project. The police had received intelligence reports that there could be trouble and that people would try and stop project work. On Sunday, Sena MLA Rajan Salvi had been served a notice under Section 149 [of the Criminal Procedure Code] as part of preventive action. A ban was imposed on assembly of people and publicity, and heavy police bandobust was put in place,” he said.

‘Mob uncontrollable'

The Home Minister said protesters turned irate after their plan to disrupt work at the site was foiled. The police resorted to lathi-charge and fired teargas and plastic bullets, but the mob was uncontrollable. Left with no option, the police resorted to firing. A maximum of 25 rounds fired were in the air. Four bullets, however, hit the protesters — three in the legs and the other hit Tabrez Sayekar just above the stomach and this claimed the protester's life.

However, the probe would look into whether any excessive force was used and action would be taken against the officers responsible.

Going back into the history of police firings, Mr. Patil said that since 1988, the number of persons dying in police firings was the lowest in 2010. He sought the participation of all parties in resolving the issue.

Recalling the debacle of the Enron power project, he said Maharashtra would lag behind other States if power projects were opposed.

The discussion turned into a mudslinging match when Industries Minister Narayan Rane, a former Sainik, held the Sena responsible for the death of Sayekar by instigating violence among the people of the Konkan. He said that at a meeting at Mumbai's Sena Bhavan last month, party executive president Uddhav Thackeray had given a provocative speech.

Amid heavy protests, Nationalist Congress Party MLA Nawab Mallik accused the Sena of violence against Muslims, since the deceased belonged to that community. It was decided that the allegations would be expunged from the records.

BJP condemns firing

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condemned the incident and demanded compensation for the kin of the deceased agitator, Eknath Khadse, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, stated that his party was opposed not to the project, but to the government's highhandedness.

“If the government is pushing the project through coercion, how many lives will it take? Can there be a rethink on the project?”

Bala Nandgaonkar of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena demanded Mr. Patil's resignation.

As Opposition MLAs staged a walkout, Sena MLA Vijay Shivtare was suspended for a day for insulting the Chair. Mr. Shivtare, while going out, had remarked that the Speaker was from the Nationalist Congress Party, thus alleging a bias.