It started as a routine hawker eviction drive by the Government Railway Police (GRP) at Baruipur railway station in South-24 Parganas — barely 25 km from the heart of Kolkata. Within minutes, bombs had been flung, clashes ensued, injuring at least seven persons, including police officers and journalists.
The eviction drive, launched by GRP, began at 8 am. The aim was to evict hawkers who had illegally taken up the railway platforms to sell their wares, officials said. Four railway personnel, including a senior official, and three photographers belonging to the vernacular media, were injured in the incident.
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Trouble started when nearly 3,000 hawkers — backed by Trinamool Congress trade union INTTUC — put up a stiff resistance. Police said they were attacked with bricks and bombs. The hawkers also squatted on railway tracks to stop trains. “Bombs were flung intermittently at the station from 8 am to 10 am. The situation didn’t come under control until noon,” said an official, adding that the protests were led by Trinamool councillor Gautam Das.
According to GRP officials, the hawkers had earlier been given a notice about the eviction drive. “But this only helped them in organising themselves better. Trains weren’t affected because we used the adjacent track for the suburban railway service. But the violence was unexpected and it seemed that the hawkers had come prepared,” said a senior official.
He added: “Bombs were flung and they threw brickbats at the police, railway officials and even journalists. At least three photojournalists were beaten up by the enraged mob.”
Officials said the southern wing of the station’s platforms that services the Sealdah main line had been completely taken up by hawkers.
Meanwhile, the state government and the Railways indulged in blame game over the incident. While railway officials maintained they did not receive “sufficient cooperation” from the state government, ADG (Law and Order) Anuj Sharma said the police had warned the Railways of “possible violence”. The state police also denied receiving any information that bombs had been flung at the station.
Senior railway section engineer Kamal Ghosh, who attempted to speak to the protesters, was beaten up. He was admitted to the B R Singh Hospital in Kolkata, where his condition is stated to be stable.
Though the eviction was later called off, the hawkers are continuing their protest by moving into an adjacent field belonging to the Railways, where they are holding a sit-in.