Baloda Bazar Collector and SP removed amidst post-protest violence

In a major development, the Chhattisgarh government has removed the Baloda Bazar district collector and superintendent of police two days after the violence and arson at the collectorate, which caused significant damage to records and properties. Orders were issued late Tuesday night. IAS officer Deepak Soni has been appointed as the new Collector of Baloda Bazar district, and Vijay Agarwal will be the new SP. The removed Collector, K.L. Chauhan, has been transferred to the Ministry as Special Secretary, and SP Sadanand Kumar has been sent to the Raipur Police Headquarters.

During the protests by the Satnami community, violence resulted in the destruction of property worth crores. The government has attributed the violence to a political conspiracy by Congress, accusing Congress MLAs, former ministers, and leaders of inciting the people. They have also stated that the damages will be recovered from those responsible for the violence.

On the other hand, Congress has called it a failure of the state government and demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister. Congress leaders will visit the incident site on June 14. In protest of the incident, the Chamber of Commerce has called for a bandh in Baloda Bazar on June 13.

Seven different FIRs have been registered in this case. So far, 73 accused have been arrested, and 200 are in custody. To track down the rioters, 12 police teams and 22 police officers have been formed for the investigation.

After the violence, Chief Minister Vishnudev Sai met with members of the Satnami community along with the Deputy CM, ministers, and MLAs. According to reports, late on the night of May 15, a religious symbol (Jaitkham) of the Satnami community at the Baghina cave near Manakoni settlement, about 5 km from the Satnami community’s religious site, Giraudpuri Dham, was damaged. In protest of the destruction of the Jaitkham, thousands of people from the community had been demonstrating at the Dussehra ground near the Collectorate for several days.

The police arrested and jailed three people in connection with this case. People allege that the arrested individuals are not the real culprits and that the police are protecting the guilty. On Monday, during the protest, people became agitated over this issue, leading to the situation escalating. The rioters set fire to 75 bikes, 20 cars, and 2 fire trucks. They vandalized vehicles parked at the Collectorate and set fire to the Collectorate building, burning many important documents. They also hoisted a white flag on the flagpole in front of the Collector’s office.

During this time, clashes occurred between the protesters and the police, resulting in injuries to both police personnel and some protesters. After receiving information about the incident, Deputy CM Vijay Sharma arrived at the scene late Monday night to assess the situation. Chief Minister Vishnudev Sai issued orders for the arrest of the rioters.

The fire at the Baloda Bazar Collectorate destroyed 100- to 120-year-old revenue records from the British era. These records, along with other files, were sent to Baloda Bazar in 2011-12 when it was designated a separate district. According to initial investigations, none of the records survived the fire at the Baloda Bazar Collectorate on Monday.

The loss of these old records will complicate the investigation of revenue-related cases, as there are no copies left in Raipur either. Important files related to the district’s revenue, land settlement, registration, revenue, food, excise, and minerals were all sent to Baloda Bazar. Without these records, handling revenue-related cases will be challenging, and issues like land ownership changes will face significant obstacles.

What Happened So Far…
May 15: Late at night, a religious symbol (Jaitkham) at the Baghina cave near Manakoni settlement, about 5 km from the Satnami community’s religious site, Giraudpuri Dham, was damaged.

May 16: In the morning, when people found out, they protested, demanding action at the site.

May 17: A case was registered with the police.

May 19: The community members blocked the road in Manakoni settlement, demanding the arrest of the accused. During this time, community leader and former minister Rudrakumar demanded action, while Guru Khushwant Saheb reminded of protests during the Congress government.

May 19: Police arrested three accused from Bihar. During interrogation, it was revealed that the accused, in a drunken state, vandalized the site because the contractor was not paying them for the tap-water scheme work.

May 20: A community meeting was held, where it was stated that the wrong individuals were arrested. They demanded the real culprits be caught and planned the outline of the movement.

May 21: A memorandum was submitted to the police and administration for the arrest of the culprits. Since then, community members have been continuously submitting applications, demanding investigation and action.

June 8: The Collector called a peace committee meeting with administrative officers, police officers, and community members. An appeal was made to avoid agitation and to expedite the investigation.

June 9: Deputy CM and Home Minister Vijay Sharma instructed a judicial inquiry.

June 9: The community sought permission from the administration for a one-day protest at Dussehra ground near the Collectorate on June 10.

June 10: During the protest, people suddenly became violent, leading to chaos. The offices of the Collector and SP were set on fire, and several vehicles were burned.

June 10: Chief Minister Vishnudev Sai held a high-level meeting and ordered the arrest of the rioters. Reports were called for by sending the IG and Commissioner to the site.

June 11: By evening, the police arrested 200 accused. Twelve police teams were formed to arrest the rioters, and raids were conducted at various places.

June 11: In a meeting, Chief Minister Vishnudev Sai expressed anger at the officials, questioning why they had no information about such a significant incident and why no backup was in place.

Government’s Response to the Violence…
In Raipur, late evening, ministers Dayaldas Baghel, Tankaram Verma, and Shyambihari Jaiswal held a press conference regarding the Baloda Bazar violence. They alleged that Congress MLAs Devendra Yadav, Kavita Pran Lahre, and former minister Guru Rudra Kumar were present at the Satnami community’s event.

They accused leaders like former minister Shiv Kumar Dahariya, former Rajya Sabha MP Chhaya Verma, MLA Sandeep Sahu, Bhojram Ajgale, MLA Indra Sao, former MLA Bhuvneshwar Baghel, and teacher Mohan Banjare of inciting people, leading to the situation.

The state ministers claimed that Congress was behind the Baloda Bazar violence and alleged that it was a premeditated conspiracy to tarnish the Vishnu government’s image. They emphasized that Baba Guru Ghasidas’ followers believe in peace and harmony and never resort to violence. The Chief Minister had already instructed a judicial inquiry into the damage to the Jaitkham on the night of May 15-16, and the community was satisfied with the demand for an investigation.

They alleged that some people conspired to defame the Satnami community and committed serious crimes like arson, looting, and attempting murder. They cited Rahul Gandhi’s statement about potential unrest if Narendra Modi took office for a third term and claimed that the incident reflected such predictions.

Ministers stated that the iconic composite building of Baloda Bazar was burned, and three fire brigades were torched by rioters. Forty police personnel were injured, and media personnel were also attacked. Public properties were looted and vandalized. They asserted that this entire incident was a result of a political conspiracy orchestrated by Congress to malign the Vishnu government. External support from ideologies like Bhim Army was also condemned, and stringent actions were promised against those involved, with damages to be recovered from them.

Congress’s Reaction – Government Failure, CM Must Resign
Congress president Deepak Baij responded to the ministers’ press conference, holding the BJP government accountable for the incident. He stated that if the government had been vigilant, this unfortunate event could have been avoided. If timely action had been taken against those who damaged the Jaitkham and the aggrieved community had been communicated with, such a destructive response would not have occurred. He called for the Chief Minister to take moral responsibility for the incident and resign immediately, accusing the BJP government and its ministers of indulging in politics by blaming the opposition.

Congress Leaders to Visit Baloda Bazar on June 14, Inquiry Committee Formed
Congress leaders, including state president Deepak Baij, Leader of Opposition Charan Das Mahant, former Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, senior Congress leaders, and all MLAs, will visit Baloda Bazar on June 14 to inspect the incident site.

Congress has formed a 7-member inquiry committee to investigate the Baloda Bazar incident. The committee will submit its report to the PCC. This committee includes former minister and religious leader Rudra Kumar, MLAs Sandeep Sahu, Janak Ram Dhruv, Padma Manhar, Shailesh Nitin Trivedi, and district president Hitendra Thakur, with former minister Shiv Kumar Dahariya as the convener.

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