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Identity crisis for criminal
- Minister certifies, residents deny existence of Bangla robber

Local MLA Abdur Rezzak Mollah may have certified Habibur Rehman to be a “permanent resident” of the Banshra area of Ghutiari Sharif, in Canning. But not one of his ‘neighbours’ seems to have the faintest clue about the alleged Bangladeshi national arrested for robbery.

The day after Rehman was produced in court and accused of entering India illegally and masterminding a robbery, Metro made a trip to what was, according to a certificate on the letterhead of Mollah (also the land and land reforms minister), the alleged criminal’s ‘hometown’.

Even local CPM leaders — one of whom, Mollah had presumed on Monday, had handed out the residential-cum-character certificate to Rehman without his knowledge — denied knowing the accused. People’s representatives and officials present at the panchayat office in Ghutiari Sharif — all owing allegiance to the CPM — said they knew nothing about Rehman. “He cannot be from our area,” one of them said, requesting anonymity as it would be contradicting the “minister’s certificate”.

“We are sure that this person (Rehman) is not a resident of this area,” added another. “At the most, he may have spent some days here, while on the run from the police.” Other villagers corroborated the panchayat officials’ claim. “I have been living here (Banshra) since birth. I do not know of any Habibur Rehman,” announced Jamal Sheikh, well into his sixties.

Trinamul Congress MLA from the neighbouring constituency, Gobinda Naskar, said on Tuesday that such certificates — like the one produced by Rehman’s counsel in court on Monday — are being issued by Mollah to “anybody and everybody”. “And, as you now realise, most of the MLA’s letterpads seem to fall into the hands of criminals,” added Naskar.

District police officials, too, said “political interference” stood in the way of “cleaning up” the Ghutiari Sharif belt. “Crime in the city and its neighbouring areas will drop significantly if we are given a free hand here,” one of them claimed. “But what can one do when robbers brandish character certificates from MLAs'”

The area — which starts from the Ghutiari Sharif railway station and ends about 500 metres away on a dirt track — is popularly referred to as Bangladesh Patti. And after a series of arrests, police claim the pocket has become a cradle — and shelter — for criminals.

CPM leaders said Mollah was blameless as his letterpad was kept at three local committee offices (Canning-I, Canning-II and Bhangore-I), besides being with two of his trusted aides. Mollah himself said he would find out how pads signed by him were reaching individuals (like Rehman) he did not know.

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