Death toll 40; train movement resumes partially under security cover; Central team visits trouble-torn areas

Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh on Wednesday asked the Assam government to immediately act against the “ring leaders” of the violence in the conflict-hit lower Assam districts of Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Chirang and Bongaigaon even as 13 Army columns moved into these four districts, carried out flag march and cleared railway tracks for the resumption of train movement. The Army was called in on Tuesday after violence escalated, forcing as many as 1,79,000 people from about 500 villages to take shelter in 128 relief camps.

The death toll in the ongoing violence perpetrated by miscreants belonging to the Bodos and Muslims went up to 40 with the recovery of eight more bodies, two in Kokrajhar district and six in Chirang district. Eleven persons were reported missing till date. The clashes also left 21 persons injured even as the Centre rushed in more security personnel to violence-hit districts to restore calm and ensure smooth movement of trains.

Reacting to an allegation by Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Chief Hagrama Mahilary that violence was being instigated by infiltrators from Bangladesh, the Union Home Secretary ruled out such a possibility. “We have asked the State government to book the ring leaders of both sides so that violence can be checked immediately. No one involved in the violence will be spared… The international border is sealed. It is simply impossible for any organised group crossing over to India from across the border to carry out the attacks,” said Mr. Singh.

Mr. Mahilary is also president of the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which rules the tribal council that governs the administration in four Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) — Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. The BPF is the coalition partner of the Congress-led government in the State and has one Minister in Tarun Gogoi's Cabinet.

Signs of improvement

Assam Home Secretary G.D. Tripathi told The Hindu that some incidents of arson were reported from Chirang district, where 15 persons have been arrested. “The situation is showing signs of improvement. Barring some small incidents, no major incident was reported from any of these four districts. We are updating the data of relief camps and inmates and focusing on relief and rehabilitation and on making arrangements for safe drinking water, sanitation and health care.”

Under the escort of the Army, eight of the 37 trains stranded in violence-hit State resumed their forward journey on Wednesday. The 12436 Rajdhani Express and the 12513 Secunderabad-Guwahati Express, both of which were held up at New Coochbehar for more than 24 hours, were among the eight trains that resumed plying with the joint efforts of the State police, the Army and the paramilitary forces. Security has been stepped up along the Alipudura-Kokrajhar section for ensuring smooth and safe passage of trains and passengers.

Army flag march

The Army conducted flag march at vulnerable stretches and platoons of Railway Protection Special Force (RPSF) were deployed at the six major stations of Kokrajhar, Fakiragram, Chautara, Gosaingaon, Srirampur and Basugaon, ensuring a partial resumption of movement of the stranded trains. Contingents of RPF and the State police were deployed in the trains that continued their onward journey. While the Centre has decided to rush in more paramilitary forces, the general manager of the North East Frontier Railway has petitioned the Railway Board seeking more RPSF.

A two-member Central team, which included Special Secretary (Internal Security) Ajay Chadha and Joint Secretary (North East) in the Ministry of Home Affairs Sambhu Singh, visited the trouble-torn districts to take stock of the ground situation. An all-party delegation of the Assam Assembly, led by Deputy Speaker Bhimananda Tanti, also visited Kokrajhar and Gossaigaon sub-divisions and met relief camp inmates to take stock of the situation.

The trouble began on July 6 when two Muslims youth were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Kokrajhar district. On July 19, gunmen injured two other Muslim youth including founder president of the All Bodoland Minorities Students’ Union Mohibul Islam and All Assam Minorities Students’ Union leader Siddique Ahmed at Magurmari in Kokrajhar district. On July 20, four Bodo youth, known to be former militants of erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers were hacked to death by a mob at Joypur village. The incident sparked off a series of attacks and counter-attacks the same night and later, blowing up into full-scale conflict in the district, spread to other three districts.