Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Monday again defended the police action against protesting farmers in Karnal district on August 28, reported NDTV. Khattar, however, said that the Indian Administrative Service officer’s remarks to “smash the heads” of the protesters were not right.

“Although the officer’s choice of words was not correct, strictness had to be maintained to ensure law and order situation there was kept under check,” he said at a press conference.

On August 28, Karnal Sub-Divisional Magistrate Ayush Sinha was caught on camera instructing police officers to hit farmers on their heads if they tried to breach a certain barricade during their protest against Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Haryana. The farmers were protesting against the three new agriculture laws introduced by the Centre last year.

Several political leaders, including BJP’s Varun Gandhi, criticised Sinha’s comments. “I hope this video is edited and the SDM did not say this,” Gandhi tweeted. “Otherwise, this is unacceptable in democratic India to do to our own citizens.”

At least 10 farmers were injured on the day after the state police baton-charged them at the Bastara toll plaza near Karnal as they were trying to reach the venue of a BJP meeting, attended by Khattar to discuss the upcoming panchayat elections. The farmers had blocked several stretches on the national highway, resulting in traffic jams.

Farmer leaders had said that several protestors suffered serious injuries, but the police denied it saying that “only mild force was used”.

On Monday, Khattar said that the Karnal administration first needs to look into the August 28 incident before any action is taken against Sinha.

“Today, you have called me here but, if somebody says that they would not allow the chief minister to reach a certain place, is it correct?” Khattar asked reporters, according to The Indian Express. “They [farmers] need to understand that they are not gaining anything out of such protests. People are no longer sympathetic towards them.”

The chief minister claimed that he was receiving calls from people asking to deal with farmers protesting against the laws in a strict manner, but the administration was still exercising restraint. The chief minister accused the Punjab government for misleading the farmers, adding that freedom of speech has its limitations.

“If I flex my muscle and move my fist in the air and my fist hits your nose, that cannot be construed as my freedom,” Khattar said.

Meanwhile, Karnal District Magistrate Nishant Yadav also said that Sinha should not have made such remarks, reported ANI. However, Yadav defended him, saying he was a “sincere officer”.

“He used some words in heat of the moment, he shouldn’t have,” the district magistrate said. “But his intention was not wrong.”

The Haryana chief minister had defended the police’s actions on August 28 too. “Obstructing official work is against democracy,” he had said. “If they [the farmers] wanted to protest, they should have done it peacefully.”

He had added: “If they jam highways and throw stones at police, then police will also take steps to maintain law and order. We’ll look into it [the matter] and take necessary action.”

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of over 40 protesting farmer unions, has condemned the police brutality and demanded that Sinha be suspended for making such comments.

Meanwhile, at a mahapanchayat (congregration) in Karnal on Monday, farmer leaders in Haryana demanded registration of a first information report against the sub-divisional magistrate within a week, the Hindustan Times reported.

They also demanded Rs 25 lakh and a government job as compensation for family members of Sushil Kajal, a farmer who the unions claimed died during the baton charge on Saturday. The farmers unions threatened to agitate indefinitely at Karnal’s mini secretariat if their demands were not met by September 6.

After the incident on Saturday, the Karnal sub-district magistrate said that “stone pelting had started at many places” during the protest and therefore the police was asked to “use force proportionately”.

“If any element was to reach there [the final checkpost], he would have already breached two nakas [checkposts] before it,” he added. “The third naka was very close to the meeting venue. There was a high possibility that any breach of the third naka would have led to vandalisation, and also certain unscrupulous elements were part of these protesting groups. It could have been a security threat.”

Other officials too tried to justify Sinha’s comments, claiming that he “did not say anything wrong and was just doing his duty at the time of such pressure”.