PATNA: Thousands of Rashtriya Janata Dal on Thursday called for a shutdown in Bihar in protest against the government's new sand mining policy, leading the normal life in the state coming to a standstill.
A woman patient breathed her last in an ambulance stuck in a massive traffic jam during the one-day bandh called RJD. The deceased, identified as Santosh Jha, was an employ of the Bihar government.
Jha on Thursday fell ill and was being taken to a nearby hospital but on the way were caught in a traffic jam which was enforced by RJD workers who had blocked the road as a mark of protest. According to Jha's relative, they pleaded with the protestors to make way for them, but none agreed to help them.
Later when Jha's family brought him to the hospital doctors declared her brought dead.
Meanwhile, over a thousand RJD supporters were detained for trying to enforce the shutdown in the state. A top police officer said protesters tried to disrupt road traffic in the morning and forced vendors to close their shops in several districts.
"A total of 1,734 persons were held across the state for disrupting public order while trying to enforce the bandh," Additional Director General of Police (Headquarters) S K Singhal told reporters.
He said 18 FIRs have been lodged at various police stations in the districts in connection with the incidents reported during the day.
In Patna, the bandh evoked a mixed response as many commercial establishments remained open but downed shutters for brief periods during visits by RJD supporters.
Senior RJD leaders, including MLAs Tejashwi Yadav, Tej Pratap Yadav and Bhola Yadav, were detained at the Dak Bungalow Road crossing when they were staging a demonstration in a tractor, police said.
They were taken to the Kotwali police station nearby and let off a couple of hours later after they signed bonds, they said.
The RJD leaders have been accusing the state government of putting stringent restrictions on sand mining.
The Opposition party claimed that construction activities have come to a standstill in the state and thousands of workers have been rendered jobless due to the restrictions.
The party had, however, kept the Patna City and the bypass area out of the bandh purview to avoid causing inconvenience to Sikh pilgrims, who had converged in the area to attend the "Shukrana" (thanksgiving) ceremony as part of the 350th Prakash Parv (birth anniversary) celebrations of Guru Gobind Singh.
Despite pleas by the top RJD leaders to allow free movement of emergency services during the bandh, ambulances were seen stranded in traffic jams here.
The bandh supporters blocked road traffic in Begusarai, Aurangabad, Samastipur and Siwan. In Maner, in the outskirts of Patna, led by MLA Bhai Virendra RJD members burnt tyres on the highway, disrupting movement of vehicles on the busy Patna-Ara road for several hours.
The bandh drew flak from the JD(U)-BJP government.
State minister and BJP leader Nand Kishore Yadav said, "The behaviour of RJD activists reminded everybody of the lawlessness that prevail in the state whenever the party has been in power."
JD(U) spokesman Neeraj Kumar accused the RJD of being "in cahoots with the sand-mining mafia" and questioned the rationale behind calling a bandh "despite an announcement made by the Chief Secretary yesterday that sand mining will continue, for the time being, as per old provisions".
RJD national vice-president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, however, said the chief secretary's announcement was just an eyewash.
"The Patna High Court had categorically directed the state government, after staying its policy, to allow sand mining as per unamended provisions," he said.
RJD supremo Lalu Prasad remained conspicuous by his absence at the demonstrations staged by his party.