Youths collect chanda for Saraswati Puja at Harmu Housing Colony in Ranchi. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Come puja, come peril.
Saraswati’s unbidden chanda (subscription) gangs in Ranchi are mounting pressure on businessmen, truck and auto-rickshaw drivers and residents in general to cough up cash — anything between Rs 101 and Rs 1,001 or more — for the daylong celebrations this Friday.
What was once a request is now a demand, failing which these rogue club members threaten reluctant subscribers with damaging consequences such as stealing lights and smashing windscreens of vehicles. Though the problem persists in every part of the city, Morabadi, Harmu, Upper Bazar, Pandra, Garikhana, Chutia, Lalpur, Argora and Hatia are notorious for puja extortion.
Last Friday, two persons sustained injuries in Lalpur area when a group of adamant Ranchi University students demanded Rs 250 from a reluctant shopkeeper. The situation threatened to spiral out of control and the district administration took four hours to restore normalcy.
Earlier, on February 4, Saraswati Puja organisers had ransacked an office of a service provider in Kotwali police station area over a similar dispute. The subscription demanded was as hefty as Rs 5,001.
A truck operator, who had a subscription dispute with some Saraswati Puja organisers at Harmu Housing Colony recently, said it was nothing short of extortion. “They (organisers) were not polite and threatened to flatten tyres if I did not pay up. They blocked my truck till I forked out Rs 501,” he said.
On why he did not inform police, the operator added that it was not advisable to be in the bad books of chanda bullies when he had to do business here.
Manoj Singhania, a businessman at Upper Bazar, agreed. “Half a dozen groups come every day, demanding subscription for Saraswati Puja. They threaten you — even with dire consequences — if you are reluctant. We businessmen are a worried lot on every puja.”
Dinesh Agrawal, a fellow businessman, pointed out that the local clubs were never happy with what one would like to donate on his own. “They will demand anything between Rs 101 and Rs 501. In the case of bigger commercial establishments, the amount demanded is in four figures,” he said.
Raju Singh, who runs his auto-rickshaw between Kishori Yadav Chowk and Ratu Road, sought police action. “Despite complaints, no strict action is taken against these chanda brigades. In fact, we are often advised to settle the matter mutually,” he claimed.
City SP Vipul Shukla said extortion in the name of puja subscription was punishable under Section 384, 385, 386 and 387 of the IPC. “Mounting pressure for chanda is a crime. All these are non-bailable sections to tighten the noose around extortionists. Police officers have been directed to handle matters strictly and also discipline hostel students and club members,” he added.
Argora officer-in-charge Pradeep Kumar Das said victims needed to lodge complaints for effective policing against chanda gangs.
“We will certainly act on genuine complaints,” he added.