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Blockade to protest cops’ puja cash drive

The receipt for Rs 15000 bears the name of Islampur police station puja committee. (Chayan Majumdar)

Behrampore, Nov. 12: Over 500 villagers in Murshidabad blocked a highway for two hours today alleging they were being forced to pay amounts as high as Rs 15,000 for a Kali puja in a police compound.

The blockade on the Behrampore-Karimpur state highway prompted an apology from the officer in charge of Islampur police station “in case policemen misbehaved with people”.

Later in the day, OC Sandip Sen, however, clarified: “I did not apologise for the puja. If any man in uniform is involved in collecting chanda, I apologise on their behalf. I will look into this.”

The villagers, led by block Congress president Narayan Das, protested on the road for two hours from 10am, keeping over 100 vehicles stranded. The blockade was withdrawn after the Sen spoke to the villagers.

The protesters, most of them Congress supporters, alleged the police were forcing traders to pay subscriptions as high as Rs 15,000. “They wouldn’t accept anything less than Rs 500,” a vegetable vendor said.

Although Das accused two officers of Islampur police station of handing out the receipts to the traders, the business community remained tight-lipped for fear of being “targeted”.

“Those who refused to pay chanda were threatened that they would be put behind bars. The cops didn’t even spare rickshaw pullers and vegetable vendors. They had to pay Rs 500,” Das said.

The Congress leader flashed out a receipt for Rs 15,000, bearing the police station’s name and mentioning a liquor shop owner as the payer.

Sen said the puja was being organised by residents and the police were in no way involved. When told that the receipt bore the name of the police station committee, he said: “The puja is not new in the Islampur police station compound. This has been going on for years.”

Salman Haque, the president of the puja committee and a cloth merchant, denied they were forcing traders to pay chanda.

The additional district superintendent of police, Mrinal Majumdar, said religious activities in government offices were not “desirable”. He, however, added that there was no law banning such events in offices.