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Syndicate recoils and bites

- Rajarhat Trinamul backers accuse party MLA of assault over SEZ supply

Calcutta, Dec. 6: Trinamul supporters in Rajarhat today accused their own party MLA of assaulting them with police help for not letting him supply 40 per cent of construction materials required for an IT project.

New Town MLA Sabyasachi Dutta said he was only trying to “protect law and order” by acting on behalf of a well-known materials manufacturer that was facing resistance from “local hooligans”.

Between the internecine charges lies the tale of how “syndicates” in the booming construction belt have been patronised by successive powers and how, appetites whetted, they are straining at the political leash. Not unlike in Singur, a new breed of disgruntled is arraying itself against the hand that fed them.

The IT special economic zone is meant for an industry leader and construction has been entrusted with one of the best companies in the field.

Materials are being supplied by another equally reputable company, according to the MLA. The Telegraph is not naming the companies since the newspaper could not independently confirm their involvement in the project till late tonight.

The villagers said it was their right to supply materials to the 40-acre SEZ project in Rajarhat’s Action Area II, behind the Tata Medical Centre.

Last night, the villagers said, a large police contingent led by the MLA landed at Chakpachuria village under Patharghata panchayat, a stone’s throw from the project site.

The police said they arrested two persons — Ali Hossain Laskar and Tapas Sardar — for “creating trouble” at the project site while the villagers alleged that they were chased, assaulted and the house of one of them was ransacked.

The irony is the victims of Dutta’s alleged assault are also Trinamul supporters, many of whom assembled with party flags today to protest the purported action of their MLA. “The MLA wants to supply 40 per cent of the materials. That’s why he is creating the trouble,” said a villager with a Trinamul flag.

In Rajarhat, this was the biggest show of dissent against a local Trinamul leader by supporters of the party.

“Our land was acquired to build New Town and income from supplying materials is the only source of sustenance for hundreds of families in the area. They wanted to take away our livelihood from us. When we protested, we were assaulted,” said Rekha Bala Baidya, a panchayat poll candidate for the party in 2008.

The CPM won the panchayat poll but most villagers who had voted the party switched sides as Trinamul’s land protests started changing the state’s political landscape in 2009.

Chakpachuria resident Indadul Laskar said close to 50 syndicates were supplying around 100 lorries of building materials every week to the SEZ construction project for the past four months.

Rekha’s husband Bikash Baidya, a panchayat-level Trinamul leader, supervises the 50 supply groups, also known as supply syndicates (a consortium of building material suppliers) which provide materials to the project.

Members of the local supply group went to the project site around 4pm yesterday after hearing that suppliers that do not belong to the 50 syndicates were unloading materials. The local group prevented the lorries from dumping the material. The unloading stopped for an hour or so after which, the villagers alleged, Dutta reached the spot with the police and his henchmen.

Dutta denied the charge, saying he went to the spot at 7.30pm to see “if everything was all right”.

The acquisition of land for New Town started in the late 90s. Gautam Deb, CPM leader and former chairman of Hidco, invented an “all-party” model whereby landlosers could feed building materials to real estate projects and earn a living. Soon, these supply syndicates became the fief of politicians and the syndicates became a law unto themselves.

But the situation spun out of the local Trinamul leadership’s control to such an extent that it started tarnishing the image of the party within months of coming to power. Various satraps reared heads and started arm-twisting the developers to procure substandard materials at inflated prices.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee publicly told party supporters not to have any truck with such syndicates.

MLA Dutta said the company building the SEZ got into an agreement with a manufacturer for supplying materials.

“According to my honourable chief minister, everyone in the state has the right to earn their livelihood but not in a hooligan way…. When I heard that an unruly mob had attacked the truck (of the materials company), I rushed there as I have to look after the law and order in my area,” Dutta said.

“I don’t supply building materials…. You must write that the honourable chief minister Mamata Banerjee wants a conducive business atmosphere in West Bengal. I have done this (last night’s visit) to help create that atmosphere for builders,” he added.

On February 10 this year, he had defended the same group he now describes as an “unruly mob”. “I want the area to progress but simultaneously, I also want the villagers who have lost their land to progress,” Dutta had told this newspaper.

A contractor cited a possible reason for the change. “Trinamul is reaping what it has sown,” said a member of the Rajarhat Contractors’ Association, which was formed to safeguard themselves against the rising tide of muscle-flexing in the area.

“When the image of the party has started to take a beating, they are trying to rein in their own people but failing at it,” the contractor added.

Rekha’s husband Bikash Baidya, who claims association with Trinamul since its inception, asked: “If he has nothing to do with supply, why did he come here? Why was his associate Supriyo accompanying the building materials?”

“If the company is not happy with our work, they should speak to us directly,” Baidya added.

Asked if the company had sought the MLA’s help, Dutta gave the number of a person he identified as Balwinder Singh. Singh, according to Dutta, is the project in-charge.

Contacted, the person who picked up the phone said: “I reached the spot after everything was over.” He gave the number of another executive. The second phone kept ringing till late tonight.


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