Kanchan Sengupta, an official in a private firm, was stopped at 27 points along a 12km stretch on the Udaynarayanpur-Dehibhursut-Champadanga Road in Howrah, and asked to pay Rs 15-25 each time as Kali Puja subscription.
Sengupta is not the lone victim. Anyone travelling by road to the interiors of Howrah in the run-up to Kali Puja is at the mercy of puja organisers demanding subscription. Some have even been threatened with “dire consequences” if they dared to approach police.
“Members of puja committees stopped my car and insisted that I contribute to the puja fund. The demands were made in public view but nobody protested,” said Sengupta, who failed to spot a police patrol van.
“I was in a hurry to reach Champadanga after visiting our branch office at Udaynarayanpur. I did not have time to go to a police station but I will mail a complaint,” Sengupta said.
Police say they cannot take action without a formal complaint but most cases go unreported because the victims are afraid of harassment.
Ashok Maji of Salkia, who was detained for over 30 minutes at Khila in Udaynarayanpur and let off only after he paid up, has retained the receipt but is scared to go to police. “I visit my ancestral home in Udaynarayanpur at least once a week to be with my ailing mother. If the members of the puja committee identify me, they could take revenge,” said Maji.
One puja committee, however, paid for its deeds, having made the mistake of demanding subscription from Sukhendu Hira, additional superintendent of police, Howrah (rural). “I was in civil dress and in a private car when members of a puja committee demanded subscription. I asked them to meet me in office. Later, I cancelled the permission of the puja.”