|Gon Chaudhuri, whose home was looted on Sunday.
The ever-expanding fringe areas have become the most-unsafe neighbourhoods in Calcutta where beat policing is almost zero and criminals get a free run as police don’t have enough petrol to patrol every nook and cranny.
The robbery at green energy expert S.P. Gon Chaudhuri’s home off the EM Bypass on Sunday evening has underscored the lack of policing on the outskirts and highlighted that nothing has changed in the two years since these areas came under Calcutta police’s jurisdiction.
An officer said it’s impossible to patrol all the lanes and bylanes on motorcycles and cycles. “Our resources are limited and the area of jurisdiction is huge. In lanes where four-wheelers can’t enter, we have to rely on bikes. But the fuel allotment (4 litres per bike per day) is not enough to cover the entire area. If we seek extra fuel, our superiors often cite the government’s policy to curtail fuel usage,” the officer said. The allotment for cars had been cut from 15litre to 8.
The four robbers had barged into Gon Chaudhuri’s three-storey house in Madurdaha after a domestic help opened the door hearing their knocks around 8pm. In 30 minutes, the gang walked away with their booty.
The incident is not unique. Areas off the Bypass, defined by poorly-lit streets and apartments separated by buildings under construction, have become easy pickings for robbers and other criminals. The murders, snatchings, shootings and robberies are yet to be solved and the culprits punished.
The daylight murder of retired teacher Sulochana Chary in her Kasba flat or the robbery at a gold jewellery store at Haridevpur, where gangsters shot at two by-standers while fleeing, illustrate this point.
Senior Lalbazar officers admitted as much but rattled out a list of excuses in the same breath. “Bhowanipore police station has a jurisdiction of 2sq km, while Haridevpur police station covers 21.98sq km. Both have almost the same number of personnel. How can we expect good results when there is such shortage of manpower?” a senior officer said.
Sources in Lalbazar said an additional force of 2,000 personnel was to replace officers of Bengal police working with Calcutta police on a two-year deputation, but the recruitment process was still on.
Cutting corners may have helped the government, not the terrified residents.
At Hossainpur and Madurdaha, there is almost no check on labourers working in buildings. “Labourers come and go at their will and we have no means to know if they are not criminals doing a recce. A police car remains parked at the crossing of the Bypass and Prince Anwar Shah Road connector but it hardly moves. The localities inside Madurdaha seldom see a policeman or a patrol car… at least in the three years that we have been living here we haven’t seen one,” said a working woman.
September 1, the day Gon Chaudhuri was robbed, marked the second anniversary of the area’s changeover from state police to Calcutta police zone. Instead of a beat constable assuring him of his safety, robbers came to his house.
“Once they reached my bedroom, they switched off the tube light and switched on the dim. They tied my hand, gagged me and covered my face with a cloth. They tied our maidservant’s hands too, but she was not gagged,” Gon Chaudhuri said. The other members of his family were out when the incident occurred.
The men were armed with knives and a dagger. “They threw the laptop and desktop on the floor and took away both my mobile phones. ‘Ebar kajer katha hok, taka poisa kothay (now let’s talk business, where is the money)’, they asked me. I told them to take my wallet kept on the first floor. Two of them left and returned about 7-8 minutes later after ransacking the first-floor rooms,” he added.
“I had withdrawn about Rs 15,000 in the afternoon. They dragged me to the first floor and took out all my valuables from the cupboard and put them in a bag. They took away at least 12 plaques. The loss of the plaques hurts me the most… the Green Oscar and Euro Solar, esteemed international awards,” he said.
The robbers are still at large while the needle of suspicion points towards the help, a resident of Kultali who had been serving the family for the past 11 months. “They came for money or the medals? We are not sure. We will ascertain the market value of the medals,” said joint commissioner (crime) Pallab Kanti Ghosh.
OFF THE BYPASS, UNPROTECTED NEIGHBOURHOODS
● Area: The jurisdiction of Calcutta police, comprising 48 police stations across 100sq km, was almost doubled to 187sq km with the addition of 17 new police stations
● The change brought about a stark contrast between the largest and smallest police stations: Haridevpur stretches across 21.98sq km while Posta covers barely 1sq km
● Strength and infrastructure: Most of the 65 police stations, irrespective of their size, are run by two-three inspectors, 12-15 sub-inspectors, 15-16 assistant sub-inspectors, 50 constables and 10-12 homeguards
● The number of officers manning areas, sometimes 10 times larger than a police station inside the city manages, takes its toll on effective policing.
The result: Crime detection is affected. Fuel allotment for all vehicles is same irrespective of their size
● Daylight murder of retired teacher Sulochana Chary. She was found dead in her Kasba
flat this July
● Two men were wounded when robbers fired at them while fleeing with the booty from a Haridevpur jewellery shop last month
● In January last year, homemaker Vidya Desai was shot at when she tried to prevent two bikers from snatching her mangalsutra
● Elderly couple Sudarshan and Sumita Naskar were assaulted and their house at Purbalok adjoining Metro Cash and Carry, robbed in January 2012. Naskar, whom the robbers had gagged with a shoe, has not heard anything from East Jadavpur police on the progress of the case