The People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) - A Naxal Outfit hold Rajdhani Express hostage for more than 4 hours at the Banstala Halt station, near Jhargram station close to the Antapani jungle in Bengal

A New Delhi-bound Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express was released from Maoist clutches by security forces Tuesday evening, after rebels held it and its 667 passengers hostage for over four hours in West Midnapore district. All passengers are safe, the union government said.


Demanding withdrawal of the joint security forces and release of some of their arrested leaders, around 500 members of the Maoist-backed People's Committee against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) held up the 2443A UP Express train by squatting on the tracks and forced out the drivers around 2.45 p.m. at the Banstala Halt station, near Jhargram station close to the Antapani jungle.


Jhargram is 155 km from Kolkata by train. After several tension-filled hours, that saw a police team rushing to the spot ambushed by the Left wing rebels, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers and state policemen finally took over the train around 7 p.m.


Home Minister P. Chidambaram announced the end of the security operation in New Delhi. "The CRPF and the state police have reached the spot and the train has been secured," Chidambaram told reporters. "The relief train will move in the next few minutes. The train is safe and all the passengers are safe," he said. Chidambaram denied reports that there was any exchange of fire with the guerrillas. "I would like the media to show some restraint. Don't report rumours. A civilian driver has been injured. There was no exchange of fire. No CRPF person has been injured," he said.


State Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh told in Kolkata: "My men have reached there. They have entered the train. There is no sign of the Maoists now".


The drama started soon after the train left the Jhargram station. "A group of men stood on the railway tracks and stopped the train. They asked all of us in the driver's cabin to get down and wait near the engine. They did not beat us up, but asked us not to run the train till they gave the green signal," said K. Govind Rao, the assistant driver of the New Delhi-bound Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express.


The PCAPA has called an indefinite shutdown in West Midnapore district form Tuesday in support of its 33-point charter of demands. "There were 667 passengers in the train," a railway spokesman said.


Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said some of the passengers were injured by brickbats hurled by the agitators who held up the train.


Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was in constant touch with Chidambaram and his counterpart in Orissa, said a police force, which started off for the spot, was ambushed and one police driver injured by the Maoists.


"But we told the police party they have to reach the spot anyhow," Bhattacharjee said.


To another query, the chief minister said: "The PCAPA may have stopped the train, but later on it was the Maoists who controlled the situation".


Earlier, PCAPA spokesman Santosh Patra, speaking from an undisclosed location, told a private television channel that the driver has been kept confined "among our people" at the incident spot itself.


"More than 5,000 PCAPA supporters are there. We have called a shutdown from Tuesday. How can we allow the trains to ply? The railway minister (Mamata Banerjee) should intervene to ensure that security personnel do not fire on our supporters. Also, our supporters should not be tortured by the security forces on the ruse of flushing out Maoists," Patra said.


Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-Maoist) leader Koteswar Rao alias Kishenjee also demanded the release of PCAPA leader Chhattradhar Mahato and alleged that the situation took a serious turn as the police fired on the PCAPA activists.


Tuesday's incidence is the latest instance of stepped-up Maoist activity in the tribal areas of central and eastern India. In recent days, the Left-wing extremists have attacked police stations and killed cops, even as the central government was considering a major offensive to crush them.


Oct 27th, 2009 at 21:26 pm IST - IANS