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Last Updated: Monday, 26 March 2007, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Questions over Bengal shootings
By Amitabha Bhattasali
BBC News, Calcutta

A man injured in the police firing in Nandigram being taken away for treatment
The residents fought pitched battles with the police
Police video of clashes with farmers in India's West Bengal state appears to contradict official accounts of events.

At least 14 locals died and 70 others were injured in violence over a planned chemical plant on farmland in Nandigram south-west of Calcutta on 14 March.

The authorities say "minimum adequate force" was used, but video shows police firing on protesters.

Several thousand riot police were sent in to the area to restore order after protests over a planned chemical plant.

Children in uniform

The state has admitted that police opened fire at Nandigram without the mandatory magisterial order.

Nandigram map

The BBC has seen both the state government affidavit filed in the Calcutta high court after a federal police inquiry was ordered and the police video of the entire operation.

Claims made in the affidavit are at odds on many points with video footage recorded by the police themselves.

The state government claimed that as protestors started throwing stones and homemade bombs, police initially tried to control the situation with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Thereafter, the affidavit says, the executive magistrate "directed the armed force to use minimum adequate force to disperse the armed unlawful assembly".

The video footage shows that the villagers, mostly women and children in their school uniforms, were throwing stones - but there is a canal between the villagers and the police.

The video does not show any bomb being thrown towards the police, nor does it record the firing of rubber bullets.

However, it does show a man in a pink shirt and brown trousers being hit by a bullet when he was trying to run away and four policemen carrying a man hit by a bullet in his chest.

The affidavit says that at another place in Nandigram, there was no magistrate accompanying police personnel.

The government says that "after the firing, police had to resort to a lathi [baton] charge and the mob moved away".

Under the law, an executive magistrate must sign the firing order first.

Bullet questions

West Bengal police say they fired only 37 rounds at Nandigram but India's federal police say at least 38 people were injured by bullets. Their officials have also recovered many more used cartridges.

If the police fired only 37 rounds, who fired the other bullets?

The government says 10 people were arrested with illegal firearms and a huge cache of ammunition as well as several red flags. None was from the Nandigram area.

The suspicion is that armed supporters of the ruling Marxists were also involved in the firing alongside the policemen. The federal police say they have recovered many bullets of a type not used by police but in widespread use in the underworld.

Even the West Bengal government affidavit admits that this type of .315 bullets were recovered from the site of the shooting.

A number of inquiries have been ordered to see whether the police followed the rules during the operation.


SEE ALSO
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04 Dec 06 |  South Asia
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09 Oct 06 |  South Asia
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