Sambalpur tense over custodial death

PNN, agencies

Sambalpur, Feb 9: The death of a 26-year-old tribal man in custody at the Ainthapali police station late Thursday led to violent incidents here Friday. Tension prevailed after a mob ransacked the police station and set its property on fire based on allegations that custodial violence had led to the man’s death. The fire spread from the building and engulfed 8 four-wheelers, 9 two-wheelers (one owned by a police officer) and 2 bicycles parked on the premises.

The detention that led to the violence was made Thursday. The tribal man Abhinash Munda was taken into custody on suspicion that he was involved in a recent theft at Royal Retreat Marriage Hall. However, Abhinash reportedly resisted arrest and hurled abuse at the police.

According to one account, Abhinash was a drug addict and was not in his senses when he was being taken into custody. His behaviour allegedly angered the police personnel who beat him up. The account also suggests that Abhinash died of injuries sustained in the beating at 2am after which the police hanged his body in the lock-up to make it look like a case of suicide. When residents of Abhinash’s native village, Bhalupali, got wind of something fishy in Abhinash’s death, they gathered in front of the police station and blocked the Sambalpur-Rourkela Biju Expressway. When the blockade did not bring desired results the irate mob attacked the police station.

Reserve police personnel, including Sadar SDPO Mihir Panda and Hirakud SDPO Abakash Routrai, who had been called in to secure the building, were injured in stone pelting by the mob. Routrai was hit on the head while Panda received a cut to his hand. Also, several journalists covering the incident were injured in the attack.

As many as 15 persons, including Superintendent of Police Sanjeev Arora, had been at the station before the attack began. However, the SP had anticipated the attack and instructed the police station staff to vacate the building and called in reserve forces for security.

Director General of Police RP Sharma said that if any policeman “was found responsible” for the custodial death, he “will not be spared”. Inspector General of Northern Range Sushant Nath said Abhinash was found hanging in the lock-up and declared dead after he was taken to hospital.

While the police claimed Abhinash had hung himself using a bed sheet, his family members alleged he was beaten to death.

The DGP said the superintendent of police and the district magistrate of Sambalpur have been asked to submit a report on the incident within 24 hours. The ADG of the Human Rights Protection Cell (HRPC), Sharma said, has been asked to visit the area. The IG appealed to the people to maintain peace and not to take law into their hands.

Police said the Inspector-in Charge of Ainthapali police station, a sentry and a diary charge officer have been suspended for alleged negligence.

Later in the day a three-member team led by HRPC superintendent of police Dilip Das left for Aainthapali in accordance with the DGP’s instruction. “The team will probe why and under what circumstances Abhinash died,” HRPC ADG Mahendra Pratap said, and added that the matter “will be probed according to the guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)”. “A magistrate will remain present during the panchanama as well as post-mortem of the deceased. The report will be submitted to both NHRC and Orissa Human Rights Commission (OHRC),” he added.

 Ex-gratia announced

Bhubaneswar: Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has announced an ex-gratia of Rs5 lakh to the next of kin of Avinash Munda, the tribal man who died in police custody. Expressing grief over the death of the 26-year-old, Patnaik expressed deepest sympathies for the bereaved family.

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THE LOWDOWN

Who died?

26-year-old Abhinash Munda, tribal man from Bhalupali.

How did he die?

Abhinash’s family alleges he died as a result of custodial violence by the police. The police say he hung himself in the lock-up using a bed sheet.

What was the result?

A mob from Bhalupali first blockaded the road in front of the Ainthapali police station and then ransacked the building and set it on fire. 8 four-wheelers, 9 two-wheelers and 2 bicycles were also gutted as the fire spread over the premises. Three fire tenders were required to extinguish the blaze.

What action did police take?

Police conducted a baton charge to disperse the mob. Armed police was posted to bring the situation under control. Three police personnel, inspector in-charge of Ainthapali police station Srimant Barik, diary control officer ASI Harischandra Garnayak and duty sentry Nirupama Choudhury have been placed under suspension.

 

Reactions

# Sambalpur MLA Dr Raseswari Panigrahi has requested people to maintain peace and has appealed to people against believing and spreading rumours.

 

# BJP national secretary Suresh Pujary demanded a CBI probe of the case and said the chief minister should hand over the home department to somebody in his cabinet as he has miserably failed to manage it in the last 18 years. He also sought the ex-gratia to be raised to Rs25 lakh.

 

Gruesome past

This is the second such ‘custodial death’ in Sambalpur. A similar incident had taken place at Dhanupali police station in 1992. Salim, a tailor, had died in police custody during interrogation after which members of his community forced closure of the local market and other commercial establishment. A mob attacked the town police station and the then superintendent of police Dilip Rath was injured in the attack. Police baton charged the crowd. But the situation flared up again leading to communal riots in parts of the city. The police imposed curfew to control the situation. Sub-inspector Rashmi Mishra was held responsible for the death and placed under suspension.

 

 

 

 

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