Sarpanches in Rajasthan on an agitation against the social audit in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), clashed with police here on Wednesday. When the agitators hurled stones and tried to march towards the State Assembly premises, police used water cannon and then resorted to lathi-charge.

At least one sarpanch, who fell down while trying to escape lathi blows, sustained injuries and was admitted to hospital. About half a dozen police constables and one sub inspector were injured in the stone-pelting.

The Assembly witnessed uproar over the incident when the Opposition members sat on a dharna in the well of the House and forced Home Minister Shanti Dhariwal to make a statement.

The sarpanches, who have been agitating for a week, were scheduled to meet Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and submit a memorandum on the problems faced by them in the implementation of the job scheme. Though Mr. Gehlot, who had cancelled a scheduled visit to Delhi during the day to keep the appointment with the delegation, waited for two hours for the sarpanches to turn up.

“There seemed to have developed some differences among themselves regarding their plan of action. I was keen to meet them as we respect elected representatives of the people at the grassroots level. But they did not come,” Mr. Gehlot said. As for the demand of the sarpanches, he said: “The Government keeps an open mind and is willing to discuss and rectify any bottlenecks coming in the way of implementation of the scheme. MNREGS involves a lot of funds meant for the rural poor. We will not let it go into the hands of middlemen.”

“There is a committee appointed by Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister to look into the demands of the sarpanches. Once the report comes we will take action,” he added.

Making a statement in the Assembly, the Home Minister said the police only used mild force to disperse the agitators. The sarpanches, who gathered at the Statue Circle at around 2.30 p.m. seemingly could not make up their mind on meeting the Chief Minister but instead decided to march towards the Assembly building, he said.

‘Anti-social elements’

“Some anti-social elements infiltrated the ranks of the protesting sarpanches and resorted to violence, breaking the barricades and pelting stones at the police,” Mr. Dhariwal informed.

The Opposition vociferously protested the reply of the Minister and walked into the well. Deputy Leader of the Opposition Ghanshyam Tiwari accused the authorities of unprovoked action.

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