The railway authorities in Sealdah are taking on extortionists masquerading as union leaders and employees, each of whom has been earning about a crore a year from bona fide traders and hawkers operating near Calcutta’s busiest suburban station.
It took a murder — that of Arun Basu, leader of a left union — to expose the racket, say senior railway officials. The murder, in June last year because of an inter-union rivalry, brought to light the flourishing ‘trade’ that took advantage of the real traders’ flaws (lack of any licence to hawk their wares), they added.
Before the murder, each union leader, mostly belonging to labour wings of the CPM, Forward Bloc or the CPI, would demand (and get) anything between Rs 5 and Rs 10 from each hawker operating in Sealdah station. With at least 5,000 such traders working out of the area, each union earned more than a million every month, taking their annual earnings to much more than a crore.
The complaints had begun pouring into the offices of the Sealdah divisional railway manager and the superintendent of railway police much before the killing of Basu. The murder, however, changed the course of the extortionists, who began to target the licensed shops along Mahatma Gandhi Road (from Sealdah to the College Street crossing), making things much more difficult for the traders.
Their onslaught forced the traders to band together and complain to the railway authorities individually. Superintendent of railway police (Sealdah) Gangeshwar Prasad Singh admitted that the railway authorities were getting a series of complaints over the past few weeks. The law-enforcers had succeeded in pinpointing around 20 offenders, a senior rail official said, declining to divulge names as that would hamper the probe.
The campaign will begin shortly, officials added. “It has been decided to enlist the help of the Railway Protection Force as this wing, operating from the station itself, knows about the nature of crime thriving in the vicinity,” Singh explained.
Things have been made more difficult by the involvement of bona fide railway employees in this racket, officials admitted. “But employee or not, we are determined to act against this form of organised crime before things get out of hand,” an official added.