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Fear stalks township

May 31, 2005: Four armed men break into BD 229 and loot valuables. The dacoity is followed by a cop-and-robber chase, culminating in a shootout at dawn..

February 4, 2005: Roma Jhawar, 20, is abducted by a gang of gun-toting youths barely 50 m from her CB 68 residence. She returns home after a 15-hour kidnap drama.

Abduction, dacoity, burglary, snatching and eve-teasing -' the showpiece township in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's 'oasis of peace' has seen it all this year.

An opinion poll, conducted by MODE for Metro late last week by quizzing over 200 residents, reiterates that there's something rotten in the state of Salt Lake.

Around 68 per cent of the respondents say that the law and order situation has deteriorated in the past six months.

More than 50 per cent of senior citizens feel unsafe in the 33-sq-km township. 'I feel scared staying alone at home. Going out after dark is also out of the question,' admits an elder in AE block.

Among the younger lot, in the age group of 15 to 45, around 57 per cent feel safe in Salt Lake. But ask them to compare Salt Lake with Calcutta, and around 64 per cent say the city is safer than the township.

'The crime rate has not increased in Salt Lake, but some sensational incidents have created a perception in the minds of the people,' says Vageesh Mishra, inspector-general (IG) of police (south Bengal range).

Perception or reality, no one is willing to take a chance and adopting safety and security measures is now a way of life. Over 25 per cent of respondents say they have deployed private guards at home. The other in-house safety measures include keeping all doors locked (88 per cent) and not staying alone (59 per cent).

The fear factor has restricted movement and around 60 per cent of respondents ' 73 per cent in case of women and 83 per cent for senior citizens ' have said they do not venture out after dark.

Three police stations, one outpost, 24x7 surveillance at the entry points, and night patrol have done precious little to change what police claim is a perception of peril.

Sixty-five per cent blame police inefficiency for the present state of affairs. Police point at the citizens' refusal to register drivers and domestic help (only 23 per cent do it, according to the poll).

'We need help from an aware citizenry to combat crime,' says the IG (south Bengal range).

Amidst the din of the blame game, fear continues to stalk Salt Lake, stealthily.

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