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Cash demands block mega rail project

Goons, who local CPM leaders admit are party supporters, have derailed work on a mega railway project. The Rs 7.32-crore exercise to lay a double-line for smoother and swifter movement of trains between New Alipore and Akra has been stalled by the criminals on an extortion drive between Akra and Santoshpur stations.

Trouble reared its ugly head last Thursday, even as work was on in full swing. Labourers were about to unload stone dust from the wagons when four youths showed up, showering abuses on the workers and demanding money. Gangleader Raja ordered the head of the labourers to cough up some cash or face the consequences.

When the labourers didn’t make a move to obey ‘instructions’, Raja whipped out a revolver and opened fire. Luckily, no one was hurt as the labourers fled the spot. The day before this, Raja had allegedly thrust the nozzle of the revolver into the mouth of a labourer and threatened to pull the trigger if he was not paid.

This constant demand for appeasement money by this gang of goons has now brought work on the south Calcutta rail project to a grinding halt. The local police are aware of the gang’s operations. “Raja has a number of cases, including murder, against him. He has been arrested several times before,” said Ananda Sarkar, officer-in-charge of Mahestala police station on Sunday.

Police sources said Raja had also stopped construction work on a railway bridge project in the area. “We have sought the help of the Government Railway Police to launch a joint operation against the gang,” added Sarkar.

Railway authorities have decided to keep chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee posted about the goings-on. “Officials of the implementing agency have alerted us about the threats. There are lots of criminals operating in the area,” said P.K. Singh, deputy chief engineer, construction, of Eastern Railway’s Sealdah division. Singh said he would request deployment of the Railway Protection Force at the troublespot.

CPM leader and secretary of the Mahestala zonal committee, Nirmal Mukherjee, said on Sunday that Raja earlier owed allegiance to the Trinamul Congress but had recently crossed over to the CPM. On receiving some complaints against Raja, the party leadership had pulled him up. “This is an important rail project and will benefit a lot of people. So, we will not tolerate such nonsense even if it is from our party supporters,” added Mukherjee.

But officials of the implementing agency of the project, Horizon Hi-Tech Ltd, are not convinced. Proprietor Debasis Chatterjee said the extortion threats had jeopardised the project. “We were to have completed it by the end of the month,” he lamented.

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