Darjeeling: Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) leader Nicol Tamang, one of the main accused in Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) chief Madan Tamang`s murder, Sunday escaped from police custody in Darjeeling district, triggering unrest in the hills.
Nicol, kept in Pintail Village at a guest house near Dagapur in Siliguri run by the hill`s governing body Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) for interrogation hoodwinked the Indian Reserve Battalion policemen guarding him on the excuse of going to the toilet, Inspector General of Police (North Bengal) Ranveer Kumar said.
Alleging that Nicol has been murdered by the police on the instructions of the state government, the GJM called an indefinite shutdown in the three Darjeeling Hill sub-divisions - Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong - from 1 p.m. Sunday.
On the other hand, the ABGL threatened to launch an indefinite shutdown in the hills if Nicol was not nabbed within 24 hours.
GJM spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chettri told IANS over the phone: "Nicol was ailing and he was under tight security so it was impossible for him to escape. We suspect that Nicol had collapsed because of heavy torture by the police and now to save their skin they have plotted the story of Nicol`s escape."
"We demand that Nicol be presented before the people in good shape within 12 hours," he said, adding: "All the shops and business establishment have been closed and the people have been urged to stop plying of vehicles from 6 p.m."
ABGL general secretary Laxman Prasad said: "We have given 24 hours time to the police to re-arrest Nicol. otherwise we will call an indefinite strike in the hills."
A section of ABGL leaders also alleged that to safeguard the GJM leaders, who had allegedly hatched the killing of Madan Tamang, the state government had stagemanaged Nicol`s escape.
Nicol, a close associate of GJM chief Bimal Gurung, was arrested from the Pool Bazar area in this West Bengal hill town for the May 21 murder of Madan Tamang.
The Darjeeling chief judicial magistrate`s court had remanded him to Criminal Investigation Department (CID) custody for 12 days.
Several senior police officers, including the Darjeeling police superintendent and an additional police superintendent, have been sent to the spot to look into the incident.
"A massive manhunt has been launched to recapture Nicol, whose arrest had followed the recovery of his mobile phone at the spot where Madan Tamang was killed," said Inspector General of Police Ranveer Kumar.
On verifying the call details, it was revealed that Nicol was one of the masterminds of the attack.
"All police stations of north Bengal have been put on alert following Nicol`s escape and police were combing surrounding areas. The security agencies were also keeping a close watch on the international borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh on the outskirts of Siliguri," said the officer.
However, Darjeeling Police Superintendent D.P. Singh said: "I was unaware that Nicol was shifted to Pintail village for interrogation by the CID. He should have been kept in lock up in the police station. Technically speaking the security cover was not adequate for Nicol in Pintail camp."
Two police personnel have been suspended for alleged negligence, said Raj Kanojia, additional director general of the CID.
Several tourists, including foreigners, are stranded in Darjeeling following the ongoing unrest in the hills.