TMC not shielding Shajahan, asserts Abhishek; police halt probe panel from visiting restive Sandeshkhali

08:14 AM Feb 26, 2024 | PTI |

Kolkata: TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee on Sunday asserted his party was not protecting its absconding leader Shajahan Sheikh, accused of ‘sexual abuse and land grab’ by Sandeshkhali villagers, even as police halted a probe panel from visiting the area to investigate complaints of atrocities against women.


While the fact-finding panel led by former Chief Justice of Patna High Court L Narasimha Reddy was stopped by police citing Section 144 CrPC, a TMC delegation visited the area for the second consecutive day and heard grievances of villagers who have been protesting against alleged atrocities by local leaders of the ruling party.

Speaking at a programme in Budge Budge in South 24 Parganas, Banerjee claimed that a few outsiders were fomenting trouble and creating disturbances in the region ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

‘The TMC is not shielding Shajahan Sheikh… We have a zero-tolerance policy against anyone committing any crime,’ he said.

Opposition parties in the state have accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of shielding Sheikh.


Claiming that the state police cannot arrest Sheikh as the ED is investigating cases against him in an alleged ration scam, Banerjee told reporters, ‘Had it not been so, how come TMC leaders like Uttam Sardar and Sibu Hazra could be arrested by police, and removed from the party on basis of FIRs lodged against them?’

Sardar and Hazra were named in police complaints of alleged land grab and sexual harassment of women in Sandeshkhali.

‘If curbs on state investigating agencies are lifted… you will see a different outcome, as the party will not protect anyone if found guilty,’ the Diamond Harbour MP said.

Meanwhile, citing Section 144 CrPC in parts of Sandeshkhali, police stopped former Chief Justice of Patna High Court L Narasimha Reddy’s convoy at Bhojerhat, around 52 km from the riverine area, on Basanti Highway.

Reddy, accompanied by former IPS officer Raj Pal Singh, former National Commission for Women member Charu Wali Khanna, advocates O P Vyas and Bhavna Bajaj, and senior journalist Sanjeev Nayak, sat on the wayside vowing to proceed to the area as high drama followed.

‘This is completely illegal. We have told the police personnel as law-abiding citizens we will not break rules. No curfew has been imposed in Sandeshkhali. So we can go in two groups. At least two of our women members should be allowed to visit the females who had bore the brunt of atrocities of musclemen enjoying political patronage and impunity from police action in all these days till the media unravelled the shocking truth’, Reddy said.

Claiming they were given a copy of the section 144 order as they set off for the journey, he said ‘The administration cannot stop civil society members of the country to interact with victims of human rights violation. What they (administration) are scared to hide’.

Khanna said, ‘What they have done is nothing but murder of democracy. They have illegally detained us.’

The group was slated to visit Sandeshkhali to also probe alleged incidents of Trinamool Congress leaders grabbing residents’ land to convert into Bheris (fish farm).

The riverine Sandeshkhali area in North 24 Parganas district has been on the boil for more than a month with protests against local TMC leader Sheikh Shahjahan and his supporters over allegations of land grab and sexual abuse of locals.

Asked about police action against the fact-finding team, Sujit Basu, one of the two West Bengal ministers who visited Sandeshkhali for the second day on Sunday, told reporters, ‘I don’t have any knowledge or information about that’.

The TMC delegation, the other minister being Partha Bhowmick, visited Bermajur area, which witnessed violent protests recently, and sought one-and-half month from locals to address their grievances.

The state ministers also urged villagers in restive Sandeshkhali to come up with their demands.

Bhowmick and Bose participated in a ‘kirtan’ (religious song) at a Radha Krishna temple and addressed a gathering there.

‘Give us one-and-half month. We have promised that all the land grab incidents, which had been reported, will be verified. We cannot solve all the problems in one go. To address the issues, there are official procedures that need time to be completed,’ Bhowmik, the state irrigation minister, said.

He also said they were physically present at Sandeshkhali for the second day in a row to encourage everyone to come up with their grievances and claimed that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is committed to ‘wipe tears of every resident of the area’.

Bhowmick said he and Bose, the fire and emergency services minister, will visit the riverine belt regularly in the coming days and hold parleys with the villagers.

The ministers were accompanied by Sandeshkhali MLA Sukumar Mahato, who also claimed that allegations of ‘improper activities by some leaders of the party were being expeditiously addressed with the involvement of police and administration’.

Around 100 women in the locality protested against the visit of TMC ministers, holding posters ‘Sujit Bose Go Back,’ and demanded the arrest of the local TMC strongman Shahjahan.

Meanwhile, ISF leader Ayesha Bibi was arrested from Sandeshkhali on Sunday for her alleged involvement in burning poultry farms of arrested local TMC leader Shibaprasad Hazra, an officer said.

In the evening, police detained local TMC leader Ajit Maiti in Sandeshkhali on charges of land grabbing from villagers, an officer said.

Maiti, considered a close aide of fugitive Shajahan Sheikh, was detained from the residence of a civic volunteer where he had locked himself for over four hours after being chased by villagers, he said.


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