A protest against water shortage outside the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) office on Thursday afternoon turned horribly violent as the police lathicharged agitators, injuring at least 10 of them.
One agitator Niral Dholkia died during the incident. The police, however, claim he died of a heart attack and not because of police action. Mumbai Commissioner of Police D. Sivanandan told The Hindu that Mr. Dholkia was 43 years old and was walking away from the scene of chaos when he had the heart attack. “He has a history of heart attacks,” Mr. Sivanandan said.
On the other hand, Shashank Palkar claimed to be next to Mr. Dholkia during the protest. “The police will obviously deny his death. I was standing next to him. They caught his collar, pinned him to the ground and kicked him.”
The incident took place between 12.30 p.m. and 1 p.m. and the injured were taken to hospital.
The number of injured was likely to go up as the police were drawing an estimate till late evening, Vishwas Nangare Patil, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone 1, told The Hindu.
Mr. Patil said the protesters were trying to enter the BMC premises forcibly. They also burnt some effigies. A scuffle ensued after which the police resorted to lathi charge.
The protest was called by Swabhiman, an organisation headed by Nitesh Rane, son of Revenue Minister Narayan Rane.
Mr. Patil said the police arrested Mr. Nitesh Rane, who led the agitation, and 12 other members of the organisation, for rioting, punishment for wrongful restraint and damage to public property. All the arrested persons were granted bail.
Lying on a stretcher with one fractured leg in a casque of plaster, Rakesh Soday, 21, said the police did not give any warning before the lathi charge. “They just started to hit.” Another injured member, who did not wish to be named, said the police lathicharged twice. “I saw one woman fall to the ground. When I went to help her, they hit me on my hand and neck. They surrounded us from all sides so that we were not able to run, and went on beating us. There was no tear-gas, no warning. We did not vandalise anything, still we are in the hospital.”
Some also suffered serious head injuries, Swabhiman sources said. One member said a physically challenged person was also not spared.
Defending the police response, Mr. Sivanandan said the police had “done the right job.” He said there was no time to sit and think. “Do you want a repeat of the IBN incident? These people were trying to get inside [the building],” he remarked.