Calcutta, Feb. 21: Police stations in Calcutta had their hands full today, finalising lists of shops that were open on bandh day because the chief minister had wanted to reward them.
Personnel who were busy video-recording thoroughfares after the announcement at Writers’ yesterday were poring over the shots, listing the shops and, sometimes, driving down to enquire what shopkeepers did during the bandh if the video had failed to capture their operations.
“Two officials from Beliaghata police station arrived this morning and checked if I was the owner of the shop where I was sitting. When I told them I was the owner they asked me to write down my name and address,” said octogenarian Ranjan Roy, who owns a shop on Hemchandra Naskar Road.
“When I asked them why they were collecting the name and address, they refused to clarify. They just said they were acting under instructions. It was quite scary.”
Across the city, officers were doing the same, checking details of the owners of some of the shops that were open on bandh day and whose pictures were missing from the video recordings. One officer said the images were “so blurred at times that it was difficult to make out if the shop was open or closed”.
It was not immediately clear who asked the police to carry out such a survey. One officer said they had got “verbal instructions” from the divisional deputy commissioners.
The chief minister had appeared to suggest yesterday that the CMC would conduct the survey. “We are conducting a survey through the corporation (CMC) to list shops that are open and those that are closed,” Mamata said at Writers’.
“This is because we want to thank those who had kept their shops open. We want to give them some tax relief. The corporation will prepare the advantage bit and show it to us and then we will take care.”
The CMC said this evening that it had already compiled a list after scanning 16 thoroughfares and submitted it to the government.
The report, said to be on mayor Sovan Chatterjee’s table by 2pm, showed that 15 per cent of the shops surveyed were open yesterday. That figure itself may be a bit exaggerated. The bandh was a flop yesterday largely because the CPM did not enforce it, not because people rose up against the protest.
CMC officials described how they went about the job, sending out eight six-member teams to places like Brabourne Road, Lenin Sarani, Park Street, AJC Bose Road, APC Road, Central Avenue, Rash Behari Avenue, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, BB Ganguly Street and CIT Road.
Whether 48 people can scan the entire city in a few hours is anybody’s guess. Why 16 roads and no more is also a question without an answer.
“Those who did not open their shops yesterday did so out of fear, not for support for the bandh,” Arshad Ali, founder-president of the Confederation of West Bengal Trade Associations, said tonight.
Arshad Ali said: “If the government can create an environment where people need not fear for loss of property, everybody will remain open.”
He lauded Mamata’s zeal in her fight against bandhs but chose to “reserve” his comment on rewarding those who kept shops open.
A licence department official of the CMC said the government could not take any step against a shop owner for not opening on a bandh day. “It would amount to encroaching on his freedom.”
At a police station in the southeast division, officers checked the recordings — pausing and forwarding intermittently — while drawing up the list. Those out on duty — investigation, law-and-order management or making a court appearance — joined later to help draw up a detailed list.
One officer said tonight they had been at it for hours but had still not been able to draw it up.
“There is no written order but we were asked to crosscheck which shops were open and which were not and list them along with the names of the proprietors and their addresses. We have to submit the list as early as possible but it isn’t easy,” said a senior police officer of the port division.
Asked what the police were supposed to make out of the lists, even senior IPS officers at Lalbazar pleaded ignorance. Most tried passing the buck.
“On Wednesday afternoon, our Barababu suddenly asked us to take the camcorder, which we usually use to record political gatherings or a crime scene, out while going for our rounds,” said an officer of a north Calcutta police station. “We were asked to film twice — once in the afternoon and then again in the evening. Some shops, which were closed in the afternoon, had indeed opened by late evening.”
But by evening as lists were being readied across police stations, officers on the job were not sure what to do with them next. While some of the officers in charge mustered courage to call up the divisional deputy commissioners, others just let it be.
Some deputy commissioners heading divisions conceded they were not certain what to do with the lists that were drawn up by the police stations. “Why don’t you ask Lalbazar about what it wants out of the lists? I have no clue,” said a deputy commissioner.
The owner of an electronics showroom in central Calcutta was scared at first when he saw the police at his shop door. “They asked my name, my father’s name and address. It was funny when I realised their plight. They didn’t even know why they were doing it,” he said.