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Goods for free, fear for a fee

Prem Chand Shah and son Ashish learnt a lesson about living in Calcutta the hard way on Tuesday ' never say 'no' to the neighbourhood dada.

Cocking a snook at Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's claims of the city being 'safer' than others, a gang of two dozen local youths beat up the father and son and ransacked their utility store on Madan Chatterjee Lane under Girish Park police station around 12.30 pm.

The youths, enraged over the Shahs' refusal to hand over some items from their shop 'for free' to drown their immersion sorrows, dared Prem Chand, 45, and Ashish, 23, to 'complain to whoever you want' before leaving.

When the Shahs went to lodge a complaint with Girish Park police station, they were allegedly dissuaded from registering a first information report. A general diary (no. 2109, dated October 26, 2004) was lodged, instead. Residents of the area claimed the attackers were CPM supporters.

Having lived in the neighbourhood since 1977, the Shahs had shifted to Jessore Road some 10 months ago. The family owns two shops in the Girish Park area and when members of Ekta Club, organisers of 7th Palli Sarbojanin Durga Puja, approached them for subscription, they readily paid Rs 1,800 for both shops.

But that obviously was not enough 'protection money'. Around 5.30 pm on Monday, a few club members led by Joy Das came to the Shah shop and asked for three bottles of sherbet and five kg of sugar, 'for bhashan'.

When handed the bill of Rs 395, they refused to pay. Shah agreed to let them take the goods on credit and was making an entry to the effect when the youths allegedly started abusing him and warned him not to keep a written record of the transaction.

On Tuesday, around 12.30 pm, Das was back with a vengeance. 'Around 14 men led by Das came to the shop and started abusing me. Some started smashing glass windows and throwing things around,' said Ashish.

'They broke the cash box and used one of the wooden drawers to beat up my father and me. A crowd had gathered outside, but no one came forward to help us. They left only after they saw my father bleeding from his mouth,' he added.

Both Sanjoy Mukherjee, deputy commissioner of police (headquarter), and Rajiv Kumar, deputy commissioner of police (central division), said they were unaware of the incident but added that they would look into the matter.

'I can recognise most of the men,' insisted Ashish. 'Apart from Joy Das, there were other residents of this neighbourhood including Partha, Bapi and Shankar Singh.'

This is the latest in a long line of forced subscription or extortion tales fouling the festive air. The Sarkar family in Netaji Pally, under Barasat police station, the Shaws of Sankrail, Ganesh Pal of Behala and a Park Street-based trader have all lodged complaints during the Puja week after falling prey to the chanda racket.

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