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10,000 manhole covers vanish
- Fingers pointed at Growing craze for Drugs, SNAP lottery

The city is witnessing a spurt in the theft of manhole covers. And if a borough chairman is to be believed, growing drug addiction and craze for the one-day lottery among the poor are to be blamed for this.

Around 10,000 manhole covers have been stolen over the past two months. And it’s beyond the capacity of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to replace all of them at one go. That’ll require Rs 2 crore.

Unable to arrest the trend, the civic authorities have decided to convene an emergency meeting with the police top brass, including the commissioner. The meeting will be held after mayor Subrata Mukherjee returns from Australia this week, said mayor-in-council member (drainage and sewerage) Mala Roy.

Uncovered manholes are death traps, especially when the roads gets flooded — not unusual during the monsoon. According to the CMC’s estimates, 10 to 15 per cent of the 70,000-odd manholes are without covers. On an average, the civic body replaces up to six per cent of the covers in a year.

“Earlier, only iron covers used to be stolen. But now, even concrete ones are not safe. The thieves prise them out for the iron rods, which are sold to scrap dealers at throwaway prices,” said mayor-in-council member Roy.

“A new manhole cover costs Rs 2,000. A scrap dealer pays only Rs 50 for the iron rods,” said Swapan Dattagupta, special officer, transport infrastructure development.

The city had witnessed a similar spate in the theft of manhole covers in 1998, when the Left Front was in power in the civic body. It could be checked only after the police started raiding the godowns of scrap dealers.

Aroop Biswas, chairman of borough IX, said more than 3,000 manhole covers had been stolen in the past 10 weeks in the 12 wards in his area. “More than 300 complaints have been lodged with the police. We had to spend Rs 24 lakh for buying extra covers. Still, a good number of manholes are lying open,” he added.

Biswas has called a meeting with the 11 councillors and the officers-in-charge of six police stations — New Alipore, Charu Market, Lake, Kasba, Jadavpur and Regent Park — in his borough on Thursday afternoon.

Dibyendu Biswas, chairman of borough VIII, claimed that over 600 manhole covers had been stolen in his area. “Besides the drug addicts, the craze for the Super Lotto lottery among the poor has been primarily responsible for the theft,” he said. “I have lodged 13 complaints with Lake police station.”

Debasis Kumar, chairman of borough VII, complained that more than 600 manhole covers had been stolen in his area over the past two months. The thieves have not even spared the roads in front of the mayor’s residence and the MLAs’ hostel.

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