10,000 Home Guards court arrest in Bihar, government acts tough

Patna: Over 10,000 Home Guard personnel courted arrest across Bihar on Thursday as their indefinite strike continued for the seventh day, while the state government acted tough by registering an FIR against those who had blocked the bridge over the Ganga leading to the death of two patients.

Vaishali Superintendent of Police (SP) Chandrika Prasad said, "We have lodged an FIR at the Ganga Bridge police station against 150 Home Guards in connection with the blockade of Mahatma Gandhi Setu on Wednesday."

Seventeen of the accused have been named while the rest are unnamed. The police said no family member of the patients, who died in Wednesday's 'chakka jam' while on their way to hospital, has come forward so far to lodge a complaint.

In today's 'jail bharo' agitation the home guards on strike squatted on the main thoroughfares in district headquarters, blocking vehicular movement. In Patna over 3,000 of them demonstrated at R-Block roundabout before 450 of them courted arrest. In rest of the districts the number of those who courted arrest varied between 150 and 550.

The agitators in several districts marched on the roads and raised slogans regarding fulfilment of their demands including post-service benefits, a hike in their daily allowances and retirement age.

Home Guard Director General (DG) P N Rai said, "Altogether 10,213 Home Guards courted arrest across the state on Thursday as part of their on going strike. So far they have not approached us for talks."

Rai added that additional men from various forces like Bihar Military Police, District Armed Police and Special Auxiliary Police have been roped in to discharge duties in place of the Home Guard personnel.

Meanwhile, Home Guard Association President Arun Kumar Thakur claimed that today's 'jail bharo' agitation was a 'massive success' and said the arrested were willing to stay in jail till their demands are met.

"The government is trying to release the arrested persons by tonight, but we are insisting that we should be sent to jail. We will stay there till our demands are met," Thakur said.

Thakur also charged the state government with "making the agitation a matter of its ego" and not inviting them for talks. "We are clear about our demands. It is up to the state government to decide and call us for talks," he added.

The 53,000-strong Home Guard, raised as a force in Bihar in 1947, works as an auxiliary and support to the regular Bihar Police personnel. Its jawans have been agitating for last couple of years for increase in their daily allowance from Rs 300 to Rs 500, one-time after retirement benefit of Rs three lakh, raising retirement age from 58 to 60 and Rs 10 lakh compensation to those who die while discharging duty.

In a decision taken in December 2014, the erstwhile Jitan Ram Manjhi government had raised the retirement age of Home Guards to 60, daily allowance to Rs 400 and had provided for conveyance allowance of Rs 50. But, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar cancelled the decision after resuming power on February 22 this year, leading to renewed agitation.

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