Mathura clashes: 24 killed, over 320 held after armed squatters declare war

Mathura: Twenty four people, including two police officers were killed and over 40 people were injured in clashes during a drive to evict illegal occupants of a land in Mathura district. Over 320 people have been arrested in connection to the clashes, including 124 for creating disturbances, and 196 under Section 151 CrPC, which deals with preventive arrests.

The BJP has lashed out at the Samajwadi Party government for patronising goons and asked for a judicial inquiry into the matter.

An ill-prepared police operation to chase away squatters in a park in Mathura led to a massive exchange of fire between the police and the squatters, leading to the death of at least 24 persons, including two senior police officers.

The squatters had stopped in the city’s Jawahar Bagh park in January 2014 while coming from Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) on way to Delhi in support of their various demands. They had initially sought permission for two days to stay in the park premises but they continued to stay there over the last two years, their numbers having increased from an initial 200-odd to more than 3,000 today. Their aggressive behavior had earned the wrath of the locals and they were not even allowing entry to employees of the horticulture department, whose office was within the park premises.

 Mathura clashes: 24 killed, over 320 held after armed squatters declare war

Mathura clashes. PTI

The squatters were led by Ram Vriksh Yadav, a follower of Baba Jai Gurudev, and his group had been raising several demands, such as demanding petrol at the rate of Rs two per litre, an inquiry into Baba Jai Gurudev’s death etc. The Allahabad High Court had ordered the administration to get the park vacated but there had been no action so far. However, it is learnt that around two months ago, the district administration had decided to forcibly evict the squatters. The operation was expected to begin on Saturday (4 June), but for some reason it was on Thursday afternoon that a small police force reached the park and started demolishing one part of the park’s boundary wall.

The policemen were just not prepared for the response their action elicited — they were attacked with stones, petrol bombs, swords and finally, firearms. Uttar Pradesh's director-general of police Javed Ahmed admitted to CNN News18 afterwards that they did not have an assessment that the protestors would fire at them. "After two shelters were vacated, the protesters set afire gas cylinders and munition stored there which led to several explosions", the DGP said, and added, "We have recovered 47 guns, six rifles and 178 hand grenades from the area."

Several rounds were fired at the first level of policemen that tried to enter the park, and among them were the station officer of Farah police station Santosh Yadav, and the Superintendent of Police (City) Mukul Dwivedi. Both were hit on their faces and head. Both were rushed to hospital in critical condition, but died soon afterwards.

The squatters in the meanwhile set fire to police and administration vehicles, boards, hoardings etc, and anything else that was there. In the melee that ensued, the policemen found it hard to enter the park premises and many of the attackers and squatters fled the spot. The police then resorted to unrestrained firing, shooting anything and anyone that moved, and at the last count, 24 persons had died. Bodies of many of them were lying amidst the debris and rubble, and many of the escapees were manhandled by the people who had gathered in large numbers outside the park.

According to the police, the squatters appeared well-trained in the use of firearms of all kinds, and quoted eye-witnesses as saying that even women and elderly persons were helping load the weapons and handling ammunition. Many of them had climbed atop trees and were firing from there, targeting policemen.

There was mayhem in the area which continued well past midnight. Many of the injured had taken shelter on the roadside and at the bus station and railway station. Additional police forces were also requisitioned from adjoining districts.

According to local sources, the police and administration had not anticipated such a fiery response from inside the park, and were not at all prepared for the kind of firing they had to face. They had planned to enter the park after demolishing the boundary wall and then chase away the squatters, but there was no intelligence input about the collection of firearms and ammunition with the inmates of the park.

What followed after the death of two police officers was more of panic reaction by the police in which men, women and elderly were among those hit. More than two dozen policemen have also been injured, some of them seriously.

The state government has rushed senior police officials to the site and prohibitory orders have been imposed at the site.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav expressed grief over the incident and announced an ex-gratia of Rs 20 lakh to the family of the deceased policemen. He directed the Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) to rush to the spot and bring the situation under control.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh is said to have spoken to CM Akhilesh Yadav and expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased police officials.

Ram Vraksha Yadav, leader of the activists, and the security officer of the group Chandan Gaur managed to flee along with thousands of their supporters, DM Rajesh Kumar said.

Meanwhile, Mathura MP Hema Malini expressed shock and anguish over the incident and questioned why UP police "did not" take action in the matter during the last two years. She has also favoured a CBI inquiry into the incident.

"It is very sad and I was very, very shocked that policemen and people lost their lives. For the last two years I had heard that they had occupied land," the BJP MP said.

"Uttar Pradesh government has to be made accountable for this. It is answerable. I will ask the chief minister about it and they should have looked into the matter two years back.... Why this kind of thing has happened now? I will write to the Centre as well," Hema added.

BJP Secretary Shrikant Sharma, who also belongs to Mathura, said that over 900 such incidents had happened where police had been targetted ever since the Akhilesh Yadav government came to power in Uttar Pradesh.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jun 03, 2016 18:28:30 IST