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Curfew relaxed in Shillong, window for tourists to exit

Swift action: Security men deployed in Shillong during the curfew on Saturday.

Swift action: Security men deployed in Shillong during the curfew on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Curfew relaxed from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m, but night curfew across the Meghalaya capital will remain until further orders

Curfew in parts of strife-torn Shillong has been relaxed for seven hours on Sunday. The relaxation made people in 14 localities under curfew scramble for essentials and provided a window for stranded tourists to exit the Meghalaya capital.

“Curfew has been relaxed from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in view of the improvement in law and order situation since Saturday evening. But night curfew across the city will remain until further orders,” P.S. Dkhar, Deputy Commissioner of East Khasi Hills district, told The Hindu on Sunday.

Mr. Dkhar said local taxi and private vehicles have been plying but long-distance transport services, particularly to Guwahati, remain affected. “We do not know how many tourists are stranded in Shillong, but we are trying to ensure they can return home safe,” he said.

Most of the tourist hotels are in Police Bazaar area, close to the trouble-torn area.

 

Shillong has been a popular tourist destination after the 1990s when communal violence – Bengali and Nepali communities were the worst affected then – had much of Meghalaya burning. There were hardly any clashes until last Thursday, triggered by a row over parking of a State transport bus in the Them Iew Mawlong locality, often called Punjabi or Sweeper Lane as well as Harijan Colony.

About 500 residents of the locality, mostly women and children belonging to families of Dalit Sikhs employed as sanitation workers by the municipality, have taken shelter at Shillong’s Garrison Ground under the jurisdiction of Army’s 101 Area.

“We are not aware of people taking refuge. At least the Army did not inform us,” Mr. Dkhar said.

Fiery social media posts saying a local tribal man had been killed in Punjabi Lane had triggered the violence on Thursday evening, though the police had earlier in the day contained a minor clash between the driver and conductor of a State transport bus and women of the locality who had thrown stones at the bus for blocking their way to a water source.

Petrol sale restricted

The authorities in East Khasi Hills and adjoining Ri-Bhoi districts have restricted the sale of petrol in jerrycans and bottles after miscreants lobbed Molotov cocktails, damaging a house and a two-wheeler showroom.

Police said nine motorbikes were burnt around 10:30 p.m. when miscreants attacked a showroom in Mawblei area with petrol bombs. A shop in Punjabi Lane was also damaged similarly earlier.

A report from Nongpoh, a town halfway between Guwahati and Shillong, said a truck with Punjab registration was torched at Umran nearby on Saturday. The truck, carrying CGI sheets from Nepal, was Tripura-bound.

The highway bypassing Shillong is the lifeline for southern Assam, Mizoram and Tripura besides parts of Manipur.

Call to shift Harijan Colony

Violence in Shillong has revived the call to shift the residents of Harijan Colony, one of 12 localities the city administration identified as slums.

The Meghalaya State Development Report, 2008 said most of the slum pockets are located in low-lying and water-logged areas amid poor sanitary conditions and unhygienic surroundings. In 2011, the State government claimed to have set a target to reduce slum areas by at least 75% within a decade, and said some of the slums should be de-notified by 2021.

That year, the government also said slum dwellers were ready to be shifted to 64 dwelling units at Lumphira in Nongmynsong on the outskirts of the city while construction 536 more dwelling units was on. The focus was on rehabilitation of Harijan Colony that the government said had more than twice the 200 families it was designed to accommodate.

On Saturday, the tribal headmen of 12 sensitive localities met Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma on the issue of shifting the residents of Harijan Colony. While the headmen wanted the colony to be vacated immediately, Mr. Sangma said a report has been sought from the Urban Affairs and Revenue departments on the status of the rehabilitation policy.

North Shillong MLA Adelbert Nongrum, whose constituency encompasses the colony and the 12 localities, said the process of vacating should be done by way of negotiation. “We should avoid any kind of communal backlash over this issue,” he said, but felt the colony needed to be shifted as “it is in a market area”.

The MLA favoured building a commercial complex in the area to accommodate hawkers, especially the local people.

People’s Democratic Party, one of the ruling allies of National People’s Party and BJP, said the government should shift the colony by Tuesday. Paul Lyngdoh, leader of United Democratic Party (UDP) – also in the ruling alliance – accused the previous Congress-led government for failing to resolve the “Punjabi Lane issue because of vote-bank politics”.

Congress leader and former Urban Affairs Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh reminded UDP that it was a partner in the previous government and said all parties must be on the same page to sort out the issue now instead of blaming each other.

Residents of Punjabi Lane, however, are not keen on moving to the outskirts. “There has been an effort to evict Dalit Sikhs from here for the past 25 years,” Gurjeet Singh, general secretary of the locality’s gurdwara said, seeking the Centre’s intervention in dealing with the situation firmly.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 9:52:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/curfew-relaxed-in-shillong-window-for-tourists-to-exit/article24071779.ece

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