Day after arson targeting govt building, vehicles in Balodabazar city, police lodge 7 FIRs

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Balodabazar (Chhattisgarh), Jun 11 (PTI) Police on Tuesday lodged seven FIRs in connection with the large-scale arson in Chhattisgarh's Balodabazar city, including at a prominent government building, and have started arresting those suspected to be involved in the violence that broke out during a protest by an influential community, officials said.

While Balodabazar-Bhatapara district collector KL Chauhan said around 200 people have been arrested so far, Superintendent of Police (SP) Sadanand Kumar did not provide a figure and said "several" persons have been taken into custody for Monday's violence.

Authorities have constituted 12 teams to identity and arrest the culprits responsible for the arson and stone-pelting on police personnel during the protest in the city, located around 90km from state capital Raipur, an official said.

On Monday, a mob set afire a government building that houses the collector and SP's offices and also scores of vehicles in Balodabazar city during a protest called by the Satnami community against the alleged desecration of a religious structure last month.

More than two dozen cars, around 70 two-wheelers and the government building were torched at the composite district office premises after the protest turned violent.

Around 50 police personnel sustained injuries in stone-pelting, the official said.

"We have registered seven offences (FIRs) in connection with the violence. Twelve police teams have been constituted and dispatched to different locations to trace those involved in the arson," said SP Kumar.

Perpetrators are being identified based on CCTV footage, videography of the protest by police and video clips from other sources, including mediapersons, he said.

"We are in contact with SPs of neighbouring and other districts to nab the accused. Some people have been arrested and more details will be disclosed after completing the paperwork," Kumar added.

More than 100 vehicles, including four-wheelers and two-wheelers, were damaged in the arson and a team has been constituted to assess the loss, he said.

Around 50 police personnel sustained injuries and one of them was said to be in serious condition and admitted in a hospital in neighbouring Bilaspur district, the IPS officer informed.

Talking to reporters, district collector Chauhan said as per his information around 200 people have been arrested so far and action was underway to trace other accused.

A team has been constituted for assessment of loss caused to government property and private vehicles in the arson, he added.

Unidentified persons vandalized 'jaitkham' or `victory pillar', a sacred symbol worshipped by the Satnami community, near the holy Amar Gufa at Giroudpuri Dham on the intervening night of May 15-16. Police subsequently arrested three persons in connection with the incident.

To protest against the desecration, the community called for a demonstration at Dussehra Maidan in Balodabazar city and also 'gherao' (laying siege) at the collector's office.

As the protest led to arson and stone-pelting, the Balodabazar-Bhatapara district administration imposed section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, prohibiting assembly of four or more people, rallies and processions in the city till June 16.

To take stock of the situation, Deputy Chief Minister Vijay Sharma, who also holds home portfolio, and his cabinet colleagues Tank Ram Verma and Dayaldas Baghel visited the district office in the wee hours of Tuesday.

Talking to reporters, Sharma expressed grief over the violence and instructed officials to take strict action arsonists.

Visuals from the protest site showed that some 50 motorcycles, two dozen cars and the building housing the offices of the district collector and the SP were damaged in the arson. Two fire brigade vehicles were also torched by the mob which was seen clashing with police.

The influential Satnami community, founded by medieval-era social reformer Baba Ghasidas, represents the largest Scheduled Castes group in Chhattisgarh. PTI COR TKP RSY