Repeated attempts to negotiate with agitators failed; Force deployed deplorably short, time consumed to summon additional manpower
PANJIM: For close to five hours Panjim was taken over and its spaces conquered by mining dependents who stormed the seat of governance, leaving the State machinery jittery and at a lose end.
Finally, it took a lathi-charge by the Maharashtra Reserve Police, called from Pune to clear the streets and remove the blockade and the logjam over the Mandovi bridges and large parts of Panjim, near the KTC bus stand.
Protesters occupied both the bridges over the Mandovi leading to North Goa leaving thousands of commuters and tourists stranded for over four hours since the morning.
Law and order was on the verge of collapse as aggressive protestors outnumbered police before the Maharashtra Reserve police finally arrived from Pune by road.
During the agitation, the mining dependents literally assaulted the commuters and tourists at the entrance of the new bridge of Mandovi.
There were several instances where the elderly who were being taken to hospital were stopped and keys were snatched by the protesters. Parents who were taking the kids home or to hospital had the same miserable experience.
“I was going home as I wanted to take my mom who is ill to the hospital. Despite requests the protestors didn’t allow me to leave. They not only blocked me but also snatched my bike keys and threw it away,” a commuter believed to be from Bambolim said.
However, the police did their best to rescue people who were stranded but also took the people who were in need in case of emergency.
“We missed our flight, we were aware of the protest but there had been directions that traffic from new Mandovi Bridge will be smooth. But to our shock we were stranded for hours,” a couple who missed the Delhi flight said.
The old Mandovi Bridge was blocked at around 10:30 am while the new bridge was blocked at 11:25 am paralysing the entire traffic.
Repeated attempts of the District Magistrate to negotiate with the protestors failed as the agitators seemed in no mood to compromise.
The Goa Police sought assistance from Maharashtra State Police and IRB in addition to the State police along with the reserve force.
North Goa Superintendent of Police, Chandana Choudhary was seen repeatedly asking her subordinates to call for additional staff in order to control the crowd who were simply not ready to pay heed to the authorities to assemble at Azad Maidan as promised by them in the co-ordination meeting.
The additional force reached at the KTC circle in the afternoon. The staff was deployed since morning but the numbers were few, compared to the thousands of agitators from the mining belt.
The traffic jam stretched beyond Porvorim to the North and beyond Bambolim to the South. The tourists and other commuters had to face a tough time especially those who got stuck in the middle of road for more than four hours.
Even as the TCP Minister Vijai Sardesai, PWD Minister Ramkrishan (Sudin) Dhavalikar, Nilesh Cabral and Jayesh Salgaocar were negotiating with the leaders of mining dependents, at the RTO office, the agitators resorted to violence at KTC Circle.
Finally, at around 2:45 pm agitators started damaging vehicles of the Police and Fire and Emergency and started pelting stones on the police. Then the in-charge of the staff decided to clear the mob in their defence.
The lathi-charge was called and cleared the road from both the bridges within minutes after the police swung into action clearing the streets which were occupied since morning by the agitators.
The agitators ran into the KTCL terminal and took shelter in the shops, bus counters and toilet. In a bid to nab them some commuters also came in the line of the police charge.
North Goa District Collector, Nila Mohanan said that no lathi charge orders were issued by her. However, North Goa SP Chandana Chowdhary said that Police reacted in defence only after the agitators started damaging the government vehicles and pelted stones on the police.
Both the SP as well as District Magistrate have conveyed the same to Dhavalikar who was negotiating with the mining dependents, that they urge the agitators to assemble at Azad Maidan.
Panjim Police have arrested 11 mining dependents involved in damaging public property. An FIR has been lodged following the complaint from the executive magistrate.
All 11 have been booked for damaging government property, obstructing public servants while performing official duty and attacking public servants.
During the lathi charge, three agitators and five policemen were injured. This included two lady constables. All were treated in the government hospital on Monday evening and discharged.
The agitators were demanding early resumption of mining activities in the State and protested even though they were informed that the government has decided to file a review petition in the Supreme Court and appealed to them to hold on to their protest by none other than Chief Minister Parrikar in New York, through Assembly Speaker Pramod Sawant.