Friday, January 29, 2010

Tension runs high in Usgao as cops arrest priest, 5 others



Tension flared up in Usgao on Thursday when six persons, including the parish priest of St Joseph Church, were arrested on charges of blocking the road near Usgao Bridge.

Fr Felix Lobo and five other women were among the villagers who had blocked the road after a student was injured in an accident earlier in the day.

Angered over the arrest of Fr Lobo, a large crowd then marched to the Ponda police station and demanded the immediate release of the parish priest.

Trouble broke out when a bus carrying school students and a truck collided with each other at Pratap Nagar, Usgao, at about 7.30 am.

Accusing the truck driver for driving in a rash and negligent manner, Fr Lobo and a group of villagers protested by blocking the road near the Usgao bridge.

A police team rushed to the site and tried to clear the blockade, but met with no response from the protesters.

“Since Fr Lobo and villagers refused to clear the road even after several requests, police arrested them. A complaint was filed in this regard by truck owner Gajanan Naik,” PI C L Patil told Herald.

PI Patil said Fr Lobo and the five other women were arrested for illegally blocking road and unlawful assembly under Sections 143 and 341 IPC.

Fr Lobo said they decided to block the road after they came to know about the injured child and to demand action against the over-speeding trucks.

“If we come on the streets, authorities say it is against the law. But what about the overloaded trucks that travel at high speeds? Is there any law for them,” asked Fr Lobo.

“There was an order from the North Goa collector to stop mining transportation from 7 am to 8 am and from 1 pm to 2 pm during school hours. Authorities are, however, least bothered to implement this order,” said Fr Lobo.

The situation worsened when truck owners from Usgao demanded the road to be cleared, resulting in heated arguments between the truck owners and protestors.

“What is our fault? I want to know why my truck was illegally blocked. Who are they to block the traffic this way,” asked and angry Gajanan Naik, former sarpanch of Usgao-Ganje and a truck owner, who later filed a police complaint with Ponda police.

Angry that Fr Lobo had been arrested, a number of villagers marched to the Ponda police station to demand the immediate release of the priest and the other women.

Even though bail had been granted to all the arrested, PI Patil said Fr Lobo has refused bail and was willing to stay in the lockup.

Police requested the 200-odd villagers, who had gathered in front of the police station to disperse. Since they refused, a strong police force was deployed at the site.

At about 8 pm, Power Minister Alexio Sequera visited the police station and met the priest.
“I had come to the police station for some personal work, where I happened to meet Fr Lobo, who is a friend of mine. I am driving him home as there is no transport at this time,” said the minister.

When contacted, North Goa SP Bosco George, who was also at the police station, said: “We requested Fr Lobo and managed to persuade him to avail the bail. We will look out for a favourable solution to the issue,” he said.

Herald, 29 January 2010, Panaji

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