The beginning of the two-day nationwide strike by trade unions took an ugly turn in Ambala city on Wednesday when a local leader, Narinder Singh, was crushed to death under the wheels of a State-owned roadways bus which he and his fellow protestors tried to stop early in the morning.

The incident, which sparked tension in the city, took place at the gates of the Ambala bus depot of Haryana Roadways. Reports from the spot said that the protesting leaders and activists of the trade unions had picketed early to prevent plying of any buses. After a while the protesters attempted to block the passage of a bus which had officers of the district administration in it.

Narinder Singh, who was employed as a driver with Haryana Roadways, was rushed to a local hospital where doctors pronounced him “brought dead”. As the news of his death spread, the agitating trade union workers became violent and damaged some police vehicles. They charged that the police officers and depot management had attempted to intimidate the protesting trade union workers.

Ambala Deputy Commissioner Shekhar Vidyarthi and Police Commissioner Rajbir Deshwal reached the spot to defuse the situation. Mr Vidyarthi informed journalists that Narinder Singh’s was a case of “accidental death”. However, irate trade union activists threatened to intensify the agitation by blocking the National Highway No. 1 if a case was not registered against the local DCP and SHO of the Baldev Nagar police station, who were sitting in the bus when the incident occurred. The protestors also sought action against the general manager of the bus depot, who according to them was equally responsible for the incident.

As the protest spread to other parts of the city, Mr Vidyarathi promised an independent inquiry into the matter. At least two companies of security personnel were deployed after prohibitory orders were clamped. At least a dozen persons including two journalists are reported to have sustained injuries after the police used force to disperse the agitating workers. Wife and son of the deceased trade union leader were also removed from the GT Road, where they had squatted in protest.

Regretting the incident, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said the law would take its course. He also announced Rs 5 lakh as ex-gratia to the family of the deceased and would consider giving a job to a family member on compassionate grounds. However, the president of the Ambala unit of Haryana Roadways Workers’ Union, Inderjit Singh Badhana, demanded a compensation of at least Rs 20 lakh for the next of kin. He threatened that the body of Narinder Singh would not be cremated till a case is registered against the general manager of the bus depot.