Armed with weapons, people belonging to the tribal community in Alampur in Gazole blocked National Highway-34 today after police arrested a tribal man on charges of cultivating opium last night.
The protesters accused the police of falsely implicating tribals. The police had to face protests as they went to lift the road blockade. Opium used to be cultivated in the Gazole area in Malda in 2016, and there were allegations that one Jathu Soren was involved in such illegal cultivation.
As police arrested Mr Soren last night, the tribals alleged that the police had framed false charged against him. Armed with sharp weapons and bows and arrows, the members of the community hit the streets today.
“The police are trapping tribal people with false cases. He is a worker in a different state and earns on a daily basis. He is never associated with this cultivation,” one protester Shuklal Murmu said.
The protesters demanded the immediate release of the accused. The blockade, meanwhile, triggered huge traffic congestion on the national highway. It is learnt that opium was largely cultivated in 2015-16 in areas in Kaliachak, Baishnabnagar, English Bazaar and Gazole, while many people had been lured by the quick and easy money they earned through the same.
However, the district police started taking strict action against the opium growers later, while the chiefs and members of every gram panchayat were issued strict warnings and asked to see that the cultivation was not done.
“The police had told the gram panchayat heads and members that they would be responsible if opium is cultivated in the area. Since then, opium cultivation has largely stopped here,” a police source said.
Another source said that the district police had then filed several cases against illegal cultivation of opium, while also arresting many in that connection at different times. Superintendent of Police Alok Rajoria said: “The police would arrest anyone with a warrant. No one can take the laws into their own hands. Police will take action against those who have blocked national highway.”