Outsider arrest whiff in planter murder

Jorhat, Dec. 30: Tinsukia police have reportedly arrested one person in connection with the gruesome murder of tea planter Mridul Kumar Bhattacharjee and his wife, Reeta, while chief minister Tarun Gogoi today said a probe would be conducted to ascertain whether any "third force" was involved in the crime.

The arrest, however, was not officially announced, with the administration likely to do it tomorrow while presenting the accused before the media.

Without confirming or denying the arrest, a senior police officer said, "We are going about things systematically. The investigation is progressing well."

Sources said besides the lone arrest, police have also identified a few others. "The person arrested is from outside the Konapathar Tea Estate," a source said.

The source said preliminary investigation had pointed at the chilling possibility of an "element of cannibalism" in the grisly incident that allegedly involved Bhattacharjee being hacked to death before being put inside the bungalow along with his murdered wife and then the house set on fire.

He said the police were likely to make two persons approvers to make the case as watertight as possible.

The source said the statements of the duo had been recorded before a judicial magistrate this evening under Section 164 CrPC. The duo have reportedly disclosed that those who instigated the labourers in front of the owner's bungalow were from outside the estate and most of them were former workers sacked by Bhattacharjee.

He said the horrific disclosure corroborates the fact that the mob armed with bows and arrows, machetes and lathis did not allow the police to enter the bungalow premises till the wee hours of the next day, when a limb, purportedly of Bhattacharjee, was found.

The chief minister's statement came a day after DoNER minister Paban Singh Ghatowar said he did not believe that the planter's killing was the result of exploitation of workers by the tea industry but an aberration, from which everyone should learn.

Ghatowar, considered to be one of the most influential and respected leaders of the tea community, made his observation during the 31st biennial general meeting of Tea Association of India at Jorhat on Saturday.

"It was a very shocking incident and the government is looking into various angles. At this moment, I neither want to rule out nor confirm anything. Involvement of a third force might be a possibility. I have been hearing about the reports of Maoist involvement in the incident. An inquiry will be conducted to get to the bottom of the entire episode," Gogoi told reporters on the sidelines of a function at Rajiv Bhawan, the Congress headquarters in Guwahati.

Gogoi said the government would sit down with tea garden managements and workers to prevent unrest in gardens in future. "I agree that the tea workers have some genuine grievances. But at the same time, they cannot take law into their own hands. The management must implement the Plantation Labour Act in letter and spirit to build trust and goodwill among workers."

The Plantation Labour Act stipulates certain safeguards, such as providing maximum hours work in a week, weekly holidays, prohibiting women and children from working at night, certification of fitness, annual leave with wage, wages during leave period and sickness and maternity benefits. The act further provides for substantive monitoring of welfare provisions by plantation labour inspectors and penalties/procedures in the case of non-compliance of statutory provisions.

The chief minister said garden managements had not implemented all provisions of the act, resulting in resentment among workers.

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