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20,000 cops turn Bhima-Koregaon into a fortress before January 1 event

In the backdrop of the January 1 clashes around the memorial Victory Pillar at Koregaon-Bhima which claimed one life and sparked statewide protests

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Anurag Bende

Updated: Dec 28, 2018, 05:15 AM IST

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On the first day of 2019, the area of Koregaon-Bhima and adjoining villages will be turned into a fortress with over 20,000 police personnel standing guard to avoid a repeat of the riots that broke out between two communities on January 1 this year during an event to mark the bicentennial of the Koregaon-Bhima battle between the Peshwas and the British East India Company whose army mainly consisted of soldiers from Dalit community.

"This year, we have decided to scale up police presence at least 10 times than what it was. So far, additional police personnel from Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur have been brought in to help Pune rural police. Apart from that, police from other districts will also be deployed at the site on January 1. We will also be deploying quick response teams and rapid action force to deal with emergency situations," said an officer from Pune rural police.

In the backdrop of the January 1 clashes around the memorial Victory Pillar at Koregaon-Bhima which claimed one life and sparked statewide protests, the police have decided to oversee every tiny arrangement, right from deciding parking areas and planning visitor movement till setting up of refreshment stalls.

"We will not be allowing any vehicle to come near the victory pillar. Parking for all vehicles will be made at least five kilometre from the pillar. We will not allow anyone to hold a public rally anywhere near the pillar," Superintendent of Police (Pune Rural) Sandip Patil told DNA.

"We will ply government buses from parking areas to the victory pillar to transport visitors. We are also seeking cooperation from local villagers who have allowed use of their open areas as parking bays," Patil added.

The authorities have taken adequate precautions to ensure normal life continues in villages around the pillar. But considering that thousands of visitors gather at the site annually in remembrance of the lives lost, the police are not taking chances and are closely monitoring activities at ground zero and its surrounds.

Officials from Pune district administration told DNA that the district collector had approached the Bombay High Court with a request to take control of the area around the pillar, which is disputed land. After the court granted the permission, the police and administrative officials have begun preparation for the event.

The Pune rural police and the district administration have also been working hard to bring harmony between the two communities who were at loggerheads on January 1.

"We realised the best way to bring peace was through harmony between the villagers and visitors. Therefore, we held a number of meetings with the villagers and convinced them to keep their shops open on January 1 so visitors do not face inconvenience," SP Patil said.

The police also met village heads such as sarpanch and deputy sarpanch and convinced them to welcome visitors with roses and arrange for drinking water. "We have shot small videos of prominent personalities from nearby villages who are appealing visitors to visit the victory pillar. They are assuring them of safety," SP Patil said.

Ravindra Kandh, deputy Sarpanch of the neighbouring Loni Kand village, said, "We have also made food arrangements for nearly 5,000 people. We are making rooms of zilla parishad schools available to visitors where they could stay if they arrive the day before. We are welcoming all the visitors wholeheartedly and making sure no untoward incident takes place this time."

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