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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Rights rap & probe
- Traders blow the whistle on cop coercion

The state human rights commission has directed the deputy commissioner of police (port division) to inquire into a complaint about officers of North Port police station taking bribes from cyclists, who carry goods from Burrabazar, and assaulting them if they refuse to oblige.

A written complaint was submitted to the commission on January 17, stating that officers of the police station had beaten up a group of cyclists carrying goods from Burrabazar to Howrah for not paying a bribe. The commission, in its order passed on January 19, has also directed that either the deputy commissioner (port) or any officer not below the rank of additional superintendent of police will probe the matter and submit a report within two weeks.

'Police officers regularly harass us for money whenever we try to cycle across Howrah bridge,' alleged Uday Hait, a victim of police brutality. He complained that on January 17, he and several others were stopped, as usual, on the bridge by officers of North Port police station. But this time, the traders on their cycles refused to pay up.

'Because we denied them their daily takings, they warned us that they will arrest us because cycling on the bridge is not allowed. Then, they started to beat us with their lathis. Some of us were seriously injured and had to undergo treatment,' said Hait.

More than 1,000 cyclists cross Howrah bridge to make purchases at Burrabazar. Each cyclist has to pay between Rs 2 and Rs 5 to the policemen in mobile vans to cross the bridge. Sometimes, the deal is settled at a rupee only. Most of these are small traders, who purchase consumer goods from the wholesale market in Burrabazar to sell them in their neighbourhoods.

'Is it the duty of these officers to force poor traders like us to pay them every time we cross the bridge to eke out a living' lamented Hait.

However, the men who had been beaten up by the police on January 17 mustered courage enough to file a petition with a Howrah-based social welfare organisation that day itself.

According to members of the organisation, these men are victims of grave injustice. 'This must be stopped, and we feel that the current commissioner of police should intervene. Such inhuman behaviour on the part of some policemen gives the entire force a bad name,' asserted Sujit Chatterjee, president of the organisation.

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