Calcutta, March 20: A Trinamul leader hit his head on a protruding brick and died today morning after he was allegedly pushed by a party councillor who has been accused of eyeing a prime plot near EM Bypass and valued at Rs 10 crore.
Councillor Sambhu Nath Kow, untraced till late tonight, is the second elected figure from Trinamul to face a murder charge and go underground after Mohammad “Munna” Iqbal in a little over a month.
The victim has been identified as Adhir Maity, a member of the Trinamul committee in ward 58 of CMC.
The fugitive’s brother — one of seven siblings who apparently ruled the area with an iron hand — died of heart attack this evening.
The murder has brought back into focus questionable real estate deals — probably one of the few flourishing activities in Bengal — with the connivance of musclemen drawing strength from the ruling party.
Sources said the councillor had told the slain Trinamul leader that a CMC team was on its way to the plot. But a group of unidentified people arrived in three vans.
Eyewitnesses told police that Kow pushed Maity during a heated exchange on the vacant plot on Dhapa Road that connects EM Bypass and Sealdah.
“A case of murder, attempt to murder and rioting has been started against nine persons, including Sambhu Nath Kow,” said Pallab Kanti Ghosh, joint commissioner (crime).
Police sources said preliminary investigations revealed that Kow had differences with Maity and other local leaders as the councillor had joined hands with some promoters to take over the vacant land for real estate development.
The plot, not far from some of the best-known real estate projects in the city, was a Chinese burial ground and later housed a cowshed. The land has been lying vacant since the CMC removed cowsheds in the early 1990s. (See map)
“Maity was leading the neighbourhood demand to construct a temple and rehabilitate some vendors on the vacant land. Kow was against it and he was at loggerheads with Maity,” said a police source.
The area has been witnessing a construction boom — and a familiar tale of local politicians playing the role of land-scouts and grabbers on behalf of a section of promoters.
Unlike in Garden Reach where councillor Munna was initially shielded by a minister, the police named Kow straightaway and the chief minister promised action “even if he is a Trinamul leader”.
But a pattern is also emerging: if councillor Munna was closely identified with the minister, councillor Kow is known as a close aide to mayor Sovan Chatterjee and Trinamul leader Mukul Roy.
Mayor Chatterjee and fire minister Javed Ahmed Khan got a taste of local anger against Kow when they visited the spot today.
“Kow and his six brothers behaved as if they were the local kings… The councillor was least interested in solving our problems and his only interest has been how to find land for real estate projects,” said Anil Sau, a resident.
Although sources close to Chatterjee said the councillor was advised to surrender in Pragati Maidan police station, Kow was on the run till late into the evening.
Complaints have been rising that some Trinamul leaders have been cutting illegal real estate deals across the state, a charge the party has always denied. The Telegraph had published a series of reports in January highlighting how a section of Trinamul leaders and their aides were using party offices and CMC premises to strike deals with promoters.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was in Bankura today, launched a damage-control exercise.
“I have instructed the police to arrest the councillor. None of us knows on whose instructions he acted. I will deliver justice as long as I am in this chair. Even if he is a Trinamul leader, he has to be arrested. I have asked the police to find out wherever he is and arrest him. The party will also suspend him,” Mamata said.
Within a couple of hours of the incident, an FIR was drawn up in the Pragati Maidan police station against Kow and eight others — Jyoti Roy Chowdhury, Bachchha Tarak, Gabbar, Niku, Petkata Bablu, Kana Bikash, Ajay Dolui and Shyamal Mukherjee. The police said in the evening that Petkata Bablu was in custody and they were looking for the others.
“The reason behind the prompt action is the leadership’s knowledge about the illegal activities of Kow,” said a senior Trinamul leader.
Sources said that the rift between the first-time councillor and the local leaders had widened because he was using his position of a CMC councillor to strike deals.
“We were unhappy with the way the councillor was functioning. Complaints were lodged with the leadership but no action was taken because of his proximity with some senior leaders. Had something been done, we would not have had to see this day,” said Naren Khatik, Ward 58’s block Trinamul Youth Congress president. Trinamul sources said after becoming a councillor, Kow became a regular visitor to the party’s headquarters at Topsia, off EM Bypass, and he used to flaunt his proximity to senior leaders.
“Kow had gone to the spot following instructions from the mayor as the corporation is planning to widen Dhapa Road and shift some vendors to the vacant plot,” said a relative of Kow.
Mayor Chatterjee, however, denied any knowledge of Kow’s visit to the area. “I didn’t give him any such instruction,” Chatterjee said.
Sources said that Kow called Maity over phone around 9.30am and asked him to reach the vacant plot as he was going there with some CMC officials to carry out some measurements.
“My father had just returned from the market when Kow called him. He left immediately,” said Mita, one of Maity’s three daughters.
Eyewitnesses said Kow arrived at Sitalapara with people in at least three Matadors, which angered Maity as he was aware of Kow’s plans to develop a real estate project on the plot. “Why have you brought so many people? Don’t create any trouble, Sambhu,” an eyewitness quoted Maity as telling Kow. This triggered an altercation and Kow apparently pushed Maity. By the time Maity was taken to NRS, he had breathed his last.
“A councillor has been accused of involvement in the death of a party leader. We want the government to inform the House what actually happened,” Surjya Kanta Mishra, leader of the Opposition, said in the Assembly.