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Flames singe success story

A little-lettered, small-town youth from Uttar Pradesh comes to Calcutta and takes up an odd job that fetches him Rs 300 a month. Several years of struggle follow. Then, one day, he becomes the owner of a sprawling 103-year-old building in the city’s business district. Now, Dipti Kumar Agarwal’s success story has been singed by what sleuths suspect is a blaze that might have been sparked by him in ‘his’ Ludhiana Hosiery Building.

Dipti and Kumud came to Calcutta from the eastern UP town of Jhingirabad in the early 1980s, soon after marriage. The first job Dipti took up was at a transport company, for Rs 300. But the couple, in a few years, had saved enough to start a small business, dealing first in hosiery and then woollen garments.

By 1993, the two had taken up a tiny space on the ground floor of Ludhiana Building, for Rakesh Knitwear. Soon, with Dipti’s brothers pitching in, seven more rooms were bought in the building. Within a few years, the Agarwals had tied up with major hosiery and woollen garment-makers of Ludhiana and emerged as a key player in the Bangladesh market.

By then, Dipti and Kumud had also managed to buy a flat in a prime Howrah locality (Dobson Road) and another shop-space in the twin buildings of Luv-Kush, next to the Howrah AC market. But somewhere down the line, things started going awry. Market estimates pegged the duo’s debt (mostly to creditors in Ludhiana) at “no less than Rs 10 crore”. A desperate Dipti made an investment that many thought “unwise” — he bought Ludhiana Hosiery Building, a year after the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) declared it unsafe.

The exact details of the deal remain shrouded in mystery. Dipti bought it from two brothers (Ganesh Chandra and Govind Chandra Agarwal), who took control of the 50-plus buildings belonging to the Shree Jeewan Dass Agarwall-Dhanpaldas Gupta Trustee Estate of the late Babulal Agarwalla in Burrabazar.

“We were astounded after learning that he (Dipti) had paid close to a crore for this building,” a neighbour said on Monday. “But Dipti told us then that the same building would fetch him a hundred crore.” An almost diabolical plan began to emerge. Kumud started picking fights with tenants; threats and offers from her husband’s henchmen followed. The fire, residents allege, was the final gambit.

On Monday, there was only a servant, who identified himself as Bihari, at the Dobson Road seventh-floor flat. “Babu and Madam are not here,” he said, before slamming the door shut behind a locked collapsible gate.

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