Over 50 people, including 15 cops, were injured as Geneva camp residents and police clashed in the capital’s Mohammadpur during a demonstration for free and uninterrupted power supply at the camp yesterday.
Around noon, camp residents blocked nearby Gaznabi Road, protesting frequent load shedding.
As local ward councillor Habibur Rahman Mizan, along with his supporters, went to talk to the Bihari protesters, an altercation broke out between the two groups.
At one stage, the councillor came under attack, police said.
To disperse the agitating crowd, police charged baton, fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.
The protesters then threw brick chips at the law enforcers. Some of them vandalised a police pickup. The protesters, however, said they did not vandalise the vehicle.
Around half an hour later, police armoured personnel carriers slowly rolled down the street near the camp. Behind it came about a hundred policemen -- some wielding sticks and many others shotguns.
At the other end of the road is the Geneva camp where hundreds of Biharis -- some of whom carrying sticks and brick chips -- were chanting slogans.
Police again lobbed tear gas canisters at the protesters.
Thick smoke engulfed the area and the demonstrators ran into the alleys.
Around 2:45pm, policemen entered the alleys and baton-charged many camp residents.
The Biharis alleged that the police action at the camp, where many go to have kebab and biriyani, was aided by some ruling party men.
The pitched battles continued for nearly three hours.
Those injured included 23-year-old technician Mohammad Rocky. A rubber bullet hit his right eye.
He was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital and then shifted to National Institute of Ophthalmology & Hospital.
Rocky’s sister July Akhter claimed that her brother was passing through the area and had nothing to do with the demonstration.
Doctors at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital said they treated at least 13 people with pellet injuries yesterday.
GG Biswas, officer-in-charge of Mohammadpur Police Station, said a case was filed with the police station against 27 people over attack on police and vandalising their pickup.
Six people were arrested in the case, he said.
’TK 33 CRORE DUE’
Anisur Rahman, deputy commissioner (Tejgaon division) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said yesterday’s clashes left at least 50 people injured and 15 of them were law enforcers.
He said the camp residents did not pay electricity bills worth Tk 33 crore to Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC).
The Biharis had been experiencing frequent load shedding for the last 20 days.
The camp residents said different international agencies used to provide funds to the Bangladesh Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief for paying the electricity bills.
Councillor Mizan said those organisations stopped giving the funds after the Biharis were given national identity cards.
On November 20 last year, the ministry wrote to the Power Development Board (PDB), saying the funds were not coming anymore.
He said they sat with superintendent engineers of the PDB, police members and Bihari leaders five days ago to discuss the issue.
‘’At the meeting, PDB officials said the camp dwellers need to have electricity metres and must pay Tk 33 crore which became due in the last two years,’’ he said.
Bihari leaders said they could not afford to pay the bills and that they wanted electricity without payment.
They said they were suffering badly due to power disruptions.
The leaders then blamed the ward councillor for the situation. They alleged some shops at the market in the camp got illegal power supply after the shop owners bribed the councillor.
A month ago, the authorities disconnected the lines and the load shedding has only worsened after that.
‘’We believe the councillor is behind everything,’’ said a Bihari leader, wishing not to be named.
Asked, the councillor refuted the allegation.
He also said, ‘’They are my voters. I went there to calm them down.’’
The Biharis are Urdu-speaking people. They had migrated to the then East Pakistan from the Indian state of Bihar during the 1947 Partition.
The Urdu-speaking people have been living in the camp since the end of the 1971 War of Liberation.
The camp, also known as Bihari Camp, is a densely-populated settlement of more than 40,000 Biharis where each family with eight to 10 members on average live in one room, and around 90 people share a latrine.