GANGTOK, 07 Aug: Four officers were placed under suspension today for their role in the handling of the student protest in Gangtok on 14 July against the college fee hike issue. The then SP [East] Manoj Tewari, SHO Sadar Thana SR Shenga, the then Director Higher Education at Human Resource Development Department, Deepa Basnet, and Sikkim Government College-Tadong principal, Dr. MP Kharel, were placed on suspension today.
The suspensions clearly come in response to their handling of the college incident and in follow-up to recommendations made by the one-man committee instituted to enquire into the incidents of 14 July. The government is clearly convinced that the situation was mishandled and that individual failures, disinterest and overreaction contributed to a systemic failure which led to a ‘manageable’ and ‘justified’ protest by students snowballing into the anarchic free-for-all that it ended as.
The move, although part of the demands of the students, came as a surprise as not too many were expecting such thorough follow-up. Interestingly, sources inform that the latest development follows from the recommendations included in the one-man committee of Land Revenue Secretary, CT Wangdi, instituted to enquire into the incident and which submitted its report on 02 August.
The committee had been prematurely rejected by both, the Opposition parties and the more vocal group of the protesting students [which later decided to endorse the committee and await its recommendations].
Most of the officials in question, it may be recalled, had already been transferred.
When contacted, Secretary Department of Personnel, AK Chettri, confirmed that the State Government had taken the decision to take action on the basis of the CT Wangdi Committee report. Stating that he did not have specifics of the suspension orders at hand, he informed that the Additional Secretary-I of the Department was handling the matter. When contacted, the Additional Secretary told NOW! that the suspension orders were being prepared and would be issued in the evening.
Later in the evening, the DoP Secretary, when asked to explain what will happen next, informed that the four officers will now be served show-cause notices to respond with their clarifications which will then be referred to their respective ‘presenting officers’ as per established procedures.
The students, it may be recalled, had marched up to the HRDD on the first day of the new academic session [14 July] to protest the near four-fold hike in the college fees. Nearly the entire college had marched up and returned unconvinced from the Department.
When they refused to disperse from the college gates on their return and instead sat down and held up traffic on national highway, the SP-East led a lathicharge to disperse them. The situation collapsed into anarchy after this episode with the students fighting back and the cops fleeing the spot initially.
Although the fee hike was rolled back by evening, the students by then were demanding action against the SP and SHO. The evening ended with another lathicharge. The confrontation played out for two more days with the students getting dispersed with tear gas on day-two.
On day-three, the students stayed inside campus and even as their delegation was in negotiations with the HRDD, their “well-wishers” came down to Tadong, egged along by a circulation of tasteless rumours, and eventually resorting to rioting stretching the entire length of Gangtok town with more than 30 venhicles vandalized and public property damaged. A strong police crackdown returned normalcy and government schools and colleges remained closed for the remainder of July.
The one man committee appointed by the government to enquiry into the lathicharge had submitted a 36-page report to the Chief Secretary on 02 August, reportedly putting on record that the lathicharge [of 14 July] could have been avoided if the district administration had been more sensible and mature in handling the situation.