Day after: police don’t acknowledge vandalism by farmers (Lead)

New Delhi, Nov 20 (Inditop.com) A day after the capital’s heart was vandalised by over 40,000 protesting sugarcane farmers, police Friday said they could only do so much to prevent the situation from spinning out of control.

“There were nearly 40,000 farmers out on the roads on protest and no one went on a rampage. These people are from rural areas and are not used to proper toilets, hence if they urinate in the open, we can’t stop them,” Additional Commissioner of Police (New Delhi) Shankar Dash told Inditop.

“Also, no one asked the shopkeepers to shut down their shops. They did so themselves to avoid any untoward incident from happening,” he said.

In buses, tractor trailers and mini buses, farmers from the sugarcane growing belt in nearby Uttar Pradesh staged a mass protest at Jantar Mantar in downtown Delhi to protest against the government’s move to control sugarcane prices which they said would be detrimental to their interests. The protests were timed to coincide with the opening of parliament.

However, things took an ugly turn when some of them went on a rampage in trying to march to Parliament House, about a kilometre away. They broke electric poles, flower pots, roads signs, dustbins and forced shops in the nearby busy Janpath shopping area, a favourite with tourists, to close down early in the afternoon.

A number of them literally laid a siege on Jantar Mantar, the 18th century monument and ancient observatory near Connaught Place, shooing away the officials at the ticket counter, throwing sugarcane stems all around, even defecating and urinating inside like it were an open toilet.

While shopkeepers in Janpath said that police officials despite being deployed took no action to stop the farmers from vandalising, police said their job was to ensure that things did not go out of hand and they could not stop so many people from answering the call of nature.

Dash said: “As far as the vandalising goes, there was a sub group whose aim was to provoke the police and make the situation go out of control, so we could only do so much to maintain the overall peace and security.”

Nonetheless, the sheer vandalism in the monument shocked many, including the officials present at that time in the ticket counter.

“It was sheer hooliganism. The farmers threatened us and forcefully came inside the observatory and did whatever they pleased. The stink is still obvious,” an official said. “A cleanup has been done, but you can still see sugarcane stems on the ground.”

K.K. Mohammad, an official of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), said: “It is not possible to man every monument in the capital and the country. It is the responsibility of the government and the police.”

“However, as far as the Jantar Mantar goes, we have had cases earlier when people have attempted to deface the property and have approached the government many times to do something about it in terms of security or otherwise,” Mohammad told Inditop.

Traders at Janpath, one of the best known markets in the the capital, said the vandalism by the farmers was so bad that they had to close down their shops by 2 p.m. Thursday.

“It was shocking. Since Janpath is so close to Jantar Mantar, where a number of protests take place, protests are not new to us. But yesterday these farmers not only broke public property but also misbehaved with us and forced us to close down barely three or four hours after we had opened shop,” said Satpal Bhatia, owner of the Prabhat leather goods shop.

According to Rajiv Sharma, a shopkeeper who sells junk jewellery in the market, some protesters looted his shop and demanded food for free from the eateries.

“At around 2 p.m. some farmers came to the intersection near McDonald’s and started drinking. Then they threw their bottles on the road and started harassing women. A few came to my shop and snatched jewellery. When I tried stopping them, they threatened to beat me up,” Sharma told Inditop.

The shopkeepers also complained of police inaction.

Police officials standing near Parliament Street Friday claimed that some of the accounts of damage were “exaggerated” and they had dispersed protesters trying to destroy public property.