Tension ran high after a tea garden worker was killed in firing at Sukna near Siliguri today. Local people alleged that 26-year-old Ajit Souriya had been shot by a patrolling team of the forest department when he had gone in search of his cattle last night. Forest department sources, on the other hand, said they had to open fire in self defence.

Protesting the incident, family members and local people gheraoed the forest range office at Sukna for several hours today. The wife of the deceased, Sabita Souriya, said someone informed her that her husband had been found lying on the ground.

“We rushed there immediately and found him lying on the ground with several holes on his body,” she said. Sources said Souriya was a worker of the MohorgongGulma tea plantation and used to live at Junglikotha. He was found lying in a pool of blood near the forest and was taken to the house.

A local trade union leader of the Trinamul Congress, Rajesh Toppo, blamed the forest department for the incident.

“He had returned home after his duty in the tea garden. He, however, stepped out from his home in search of his cattle, and he had gone to the tea plantation, where forest teams conduct patrolling there too. He was unarmed, but the forest personnel opened fire at him. He sustained several pellet injuries on the left side of his body and also the head. It seemed they used the shotgun,” he said.

Forest officials said the department uses single barrel, double barrel and pellet guns during patrolling.

Chief conservator of forests, wildlife, north Bengal, Rajendra Jakhar said forest personnel warned a group of persons who were conducting illegal activities in the forests of the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary.

“They asked them to surrender, but those persons attacked the personnel instead, and in self defence, they had to open fire. Those persons fled, and no one has been found. The forest department is inquiring into the whole incident,” he said. Darjeeling Wildlife Divisional Forest Officer Jiju Jaesper said they would be able to comment only after completion of the investigations. The body has been sent to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital for postmortem.

Police, meanwhile, said they have started investigations.

Meanwhile, the Darjeeling district Trinamul Congress president, Ranjan Sarkar, said they demand punishment for those who were behind the man’s death.