Five killed in Rajasthan police firing

Villagers' gathering to demand water turns violent, Raje Government orders probe

Special Correspondent

JAIPUR: The police opened fire at Soyla village in Rajasthan's Tonk district on Monday killing five villagers, including a woman, on the spot. The police action reportedly followed failure of other measures, including tear-gas and lathi-charge, on a violent mob of around 2,500 persons who were demanding water from the Bisalpur dam in the district.

Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria put the number of casualties at five though there are apprehensions that the number could be more. At least half a dozen villagers with serious injuries have been referred to Sawai Man Singh Hospital here. Mr.Kataria announced a judicial probe into the firing incident.

According to official sources, in all, 22 police personnel, including Additional Superintend of Police and about a dozen villagers, sustained injuries. This is the second police firing in Rajasthan in week's time. On Monday last one boy was killed in Kanchanpur in Dholpur district when the police opened fire at villagers who were protesting against an alleged custodial death.

The reports reaching here said the villagers from the Tonk district's Malpura, Toda Raisingh, Niwai and Pipli had gathered at Soyla, some 20 kms from the National Highway 12, demanding water. The villagers in the recent past had met Irrigation Minister Sanwarlal Jat to demand construction of a lift canal at Todi Sagar to facilitate the supply of Bisalpur water to their areas.

Violent turn

The agitation took a violent turn by evening when they stopped the traffic on the road and the passengers started reacting to this. Heavy stone pelting preceded the firing, the sources said.

Terming the incident as "most unfortunate'', former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje. "There have been six police firings, including one last week in Dholpur, during the one year and a half tenure of the BJP Government,'' he pointed out. "The Government which opens fire at innocent persons has no right to continue,'' he said.

Mr.Gehlot alleged that the Government had lost control over the law and order situation in the State. "The Chief Minister goes abroad unmindful of the situation back home,'' he said referring to Ms.Raje's foreign trip--from which she returned on Monday.

Pradesh Congress Committee president B.D.Kalla has constituted a five-member committee to enquire into the firing. Mr.Kalla demanded the dismissal of Rajasthan Minister, Kaluram Gujjar, as the local people were holding him responsible for the police firing.

The State Secretariat of the Communist Party of India(Marxist) and the All India Kisan Sabha also expressed its grave concern at what they termed the "feudal regime's yet another act of oppression''. Rajasthan Kisan Sabha president Sheopath Singh and CPI(M) MLA Amra Ram have threatened a State-wide agitation to protest against the police firing at Soyla.

Congress dharna

Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president B.D.Kalla led a group of Congress workers outside the Collectorate here on Monday to court arrest in protest against "anti-people'' policies of the State Government. Prior to the arrest, the Congressmen from both Jaipur City and Rural sat on a dharna outside the Collectorate.

Addressing the gathering, Mr.Kalla charged the Bharatiya Janata Party Government with "insensitivity'' to the people's problems. The BJP's manifesto had promised to reduce the electricity rates and to put an end to the house tax but after coming to power the promises had been forgotten, Mr.Kalla pointed out. The villages and towns in Rajasthan were now experiencing severe shortage of drinking water but the Government had failed to take any step to mitigate the problem, he said.

Mr.Kalla said the latest hike in power rates had rendered the farmers the victims as they would have to pay an additional Re 1 per each unit. Most of the farm connections were under the category of "Flat rate'' scheme in which the farmers would have to now pay an extra Rs.35 per horse power.

The dharna was addressed by former Energy Minister Chandra Bhan, former MP Hari Singh and president of the Rajasthan Mahila Congress, Mamta Sharma.

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