Redressal camps fail to contain villagers’ anger in Sandeshkhali

Earlier, camps were set up across schools in the village so that locals can register their complaints. The booths had registered about 800 complaints, mostly related to land grab and forcible conversion of bheries (shallow water ponds)

Updated - February 25, 2024 01:22 am IST

Published - February 24, 2024 10:08 pm IST - KOLKATA

DYFI West Bengal State secretary Minakshi Mukherjee was not allowed to meet villagers at Sandeshkhali in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district on February 24, 2024. She was stopped by the police as she set foot on the island. Sandeshkhali.

DYFI West Bengal State secretary Minakshi Mukherjee was not allowed to meet villagers at Sandeshkhali in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district on February 24, 2024. She was stopped by the police as she set foot on the island. Sandeshkhali. | Photo Credit: PTI

The West Bengal government’s attempts to contain the anger of people at Sandeshkhali village by having grievance redressal booths have not bore the desired results as villagers continue to protest on Saturday.

After the camps to register complaints by the district administration, the police have set up camps in Bermajur gram panchayat of Sandeshkhali village. By Saturday evening, 73 complaints were registered with the police and more than 60 complaints were related to land grab.

Earlier from February 18, camps were opened by the district administration across schools in Sandeshkhali so that locals can register their complaints. Booths for separate complaints for the Food department, Agriculture department and Land department were set up in the school for around three days.

The booths had registered about 800 complaints, a majority of which are relating to land grab and forcible conversion of bheries (shallow water ponds). As villagers in Bermajur gram panchayat became restive over the past few days, the senior West Bengal police officers had assured that the camps would be set up.

Leaders heckled

Meanwhile, villagers in Sandeshkhali continued to protest. On Saturday, another local Trinamool Congress leader Benoy Sardar was chased by villagers. On Friday, Trinamool leader Ajit Maity was heckled by villagers and the police had to intervene.

On Saturday, villagers, particularly women, raised slogans against Trinamool leader Sheikh Shahjahan and his brother Sheikh Sirajuddin demanding their arrest. Slogans like “we want Sheikh Shahjahan to be arrested” were raised by the women protesting on the streets in the villages. The villagers also openly expressed their anger against the police and said that whenever they approached the authorities with a complaint, they were asked by the police to go to Sheikh Shahjahan and his aides.

Two Ministers face ire

During the day, Irrigation Minister Partha Bhowmick and Fire Minister Sujit Bose visited Sandeshkhali and faced protests by locals. The villagers raised questions on when their land will be returned and the accused Trinamool leaders will be arrested. The two Ministers went around the island and spoke to residents. Earlier, local Trinamool MLA of Sandeshkhali Sukumar Mahato faced the ire of villagers when he visited the island and tried to speak to the locals.

So far, the Trinamool leadership including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and general secretary Abhishek Banerjee has put their weight behind Sheikh Shahjahan, but slowly things have started to change.

On Saturday, Mr. Bhowmick said that the party had taken action against former Minister Partha Chatterjee and that small-time leaders do not matter. Mr. Shahjahan remains on the run despite allegations by locals and an attack on a team of Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials by his supporters on January 5.

CPI(M) leader stopped

During the day, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Minakshi Mukherjee was not allowed to meet villagers in Sandeshkhali. Ms. Mukherjee, who heads the youth wing of the party, was stopped by the police as she set foot on the island.

The CPI(M) leader said even with prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC, she can visit the villages alone and meet the locals. The Ministers of the State government being allowed to meet the villagers but Ms. Mukherjee and other CPI(M) leaders not getting the requisite permission raised questions among the political circles.

Sandeshkhali has been on the boil over the past few weeks over allegations of sexual assault and land grab against Sheikh Shahjahan and his aides Shiboprasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar. Allegations of land grab have also been raised against Sheikh Shahjahan’s brother Sheikh Sirajuddin.

Like his brother who had a market dedicated to him in Sarberia area of Sandeshkhali I block, villagers alleged that a similar market for Sheikh Sirajuddin has been set up on land usurped by the locals.

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