Haldwani: Five people were killed and three critically injured in violence that broke out over the demolition of an illegally-built madrasa and a place for offering namaz inside its premises in this Uttarakhand town where a curfew has been imposed and shoot-at-sight orders have been issued, officials said on Friday.
Nainital District Magistrate (DM) Vandana Singh and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Prahlad Meena, who held a joint press conference here, confirmed the two deaths in the violence that erupted on Thursday.
Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami held a high-level meeting at his official residence in Dehradun on Friday and instructed Additional Director General of Police (ADG), Law and Order, A P Anshuman, to camp in Haldwani to ensure peace and law and order in the town's Banbhoolpura area.
Taking strong note of the attack on police personnel and administrative officials and an attempt to spread unrest in the area during the removal of illegal construction, the chief minister ordered strict action against unruly elements.
Each rioter involved in the arson and stone pelting should be identified and strictest action should be taken against them, Dhami said.
He asked the senior officials attending the meeting to maintain constant coordination with the Nainital DM.
The SSP said police had to use force in self-defence when an irate mob of unruly elements attacked the Banbhoolpura police station and police personnel.
The two casualties were due to gunshot injuries, he said.
One of the three people injured sustained a gunshot wound and the two others received different kinds of injuries, Meena said. They are under treatment, he added.
Four people have been arrested for allegedly being involved in the attack on the police station and police personnel and three FIRs registered, the SSP said.
Ensuring the safety of people in Haldwani town and dealing firmly with elements trying to disrupt peace is their foremost responsibility, the officials said.
Around 15 to 20 people seem to have been involved in instigating the mob, the SSP said.
"The riot on Thursday was totally unprovoked and a handiwork of unruly elements who were not trying to protect the structures being demolished but were targeting the authorities, the state machinery, law and order," the DM said.
Police dispersed the stone-pelting and petrol bomb-hurling mob without using excess force until the police station was attacked, she said.
The mob was armed with crude weapons, including country-made pistols, and set vehicles parked outside the police station on fire, she said.
Orders to open fire with instructions to shoot the rioters in the leg were issued in the defence of the personnel trapped inside the police station, the DM said.
The situation in the town is under control now with a curfew imposed and around 1,100 police personnel deployed there, the SSP said.
Internet services in Haldwani have been suspended to prevent rumours being spread, officials said.
The DM said the structures stood on encroached government land and were demolished after a prior notice in compliance with a court order and the completion of all legal formalities.
The demolition drive began after the municipal corporation had taken complete legal possession of the two structures, she added.
The demolition exercise was not an isolated incident targeting particular structures but part of an anti-encroachment drive being carried out in different parts of the state to free illegally-occupied government land, Singh said.
"The structure that is being called a madrasa was illegal. In official records, it was not registered either as a madrasa or a religious structure," she said.
Stone pelting from the roofs of houses was planned as no stones were found on the roofs during an advance inspection of the area, the DM said.
The rioting by the residents of the area began 30 minutes into the demolition exercise, she added.
The police personnel were pelted with stones by the mob that was dispersed without using unnecessary force, Singh said, adding that the rioters also hurled petrol bombs at the men in uniform and finally, attacked the police station.
The bomb-hurling mob was controlled by police without using much force but they had to retaliate when the rioters came to the police station and set fire to it, she said.
Police vehicles in large numbers were torched and there were also attempts by the rioters to burn police personnel alive, forcing them to run to the police station for cover, the DM said.
As the violence escalated on Thursday, all the shops in Haldwani were closed. After the imposition of the curfew, all schools in and around the city have also been closed.
Meena had said on Thursday that the madrasa stood on illegally-encroached government land and the demolition was carried out in the heavy presence of police and Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel in compliance with a court order.
Angry residents, including women, descended on the streets in large numbers to protest against the action as the demolition of the two structures began.
They were seen breaking barricades and arguing with the police personnel engaged in the demolition exercise.