1993 Bengal police firing worse than Jallianwala Bagh: Probe panel

Kolkata, Dec 29 (IANS) Terming the July 21, 1993, police firing in which 13 Congress workers were killed “worse than the Jallianwala Bagh massacre”, the Justice Sushanta Chatterjee Commission Monday said the action was “unprovoked and unconstitutional”.

The commission Monday submitted its report in which it has held responsible those at the top of the state home department and police for the firing on Youth Congress activists who had laid a siege to the Writers’ Buildings – the state secretariat.
While the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led Left Front, which was in power then, called the findings unacceptable, the Congress dubbed the report a “farce”.
Immediately after assuming power in May 2011, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government constituted the commission to ascertain who issued the order to police to open fire at the rally spearheaded by Banerjee – then a Youth Congress leader.
“The commission has come to a conclusion that the instant case is even worse than Jallianwala Bagh massacre. After going through a host of witnesses and documents, the commission has found the firing was unprovoked and unconstitutional,” Justice Chatterjee said in the report.
“The people who were at the helm of the home department as well as the top police brass cannot escape from responsibility for the firing,” he said.
“Those entrusted with the home department and police failed to discharge their constitutional obligation during a situation that involved the lives of citizens of this country,” added the retired Calcutta High Court judge.
Having examined over 300 witnesses, including former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Left Front chairperson Biman Bose, the commission said the order for the firing came from a police control room.
“There have been many inconsistencies within police as to who made the order for the firing, which had come from the police control room.”
“On the basis of the testimonies, the commission, instead of specifying any particular authority or officer, has held the home department and police jointly and severally liable,” said Chatterjee.
The commission also ordered Rs.25 lakh as compensation for the kin of the each dead and Rs.5 lakh for those injured in the police firing.
Observing that hitting the streets for demonstration was a democratic right of the people, he said police ought to have been more restrained and thoughtful, so that such an incident is not repeated.
Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra of the CPI-M contested the validity of the report contending that Banerjee, who had organised the siege, did not depose before the commission.
“The report calls the firing unconstitutional but what about the movement that was aimed at capturing the Writers’. The report is silent on the constitutionality of the movement. Not only that, our current chief minister who had engineered the siege, was not called for deposing,” he said.
CPI-M Lok Sabha member Mohammad Salim took a strong exception to the committee likening the incident to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
“There can be a debate on whether the firing was done willingly or unwillingly, but comparing the incident with the Jalianwallah Bagh massacre has made it a political leaflet,” said Salim.
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury called the report a farce.
“The firing could not have taken place without the knowledge of the (then) home secretary Manish Gupta who has now become the state power minister. It is evident that the Trinamool is only playing to the gallery and the report is nothing more than a farce,” he said.