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Something stinks at Writers’

Offence
Sprinkling and pouring kerosene on the top floor of Writers’ Buildings

Suspicion
Malicious conspiracy to set Writers’ Buildings ablaze

Charged under
IPC Section 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy a house; punishment: jail for 10 years or life), Section 511 (attempting to commit the offence defined by Section 436, punishment: imprisonment for life or not exceeding 5 years in this case), Section 34 (common intent, which helps in the arrest of more suspects)

Overlooked
Suspect was hired by the registrar of the home publication department to spray insecticide in the department housed in Writers’ Buildings. He has been spraying apparently the same substance for six years, starting from Bhabani Bhavan, the state police headquarters where the department was located before it was shifted to Writers’ in June

Serampore, Dec. 2: The kerosene “conspiracy” unearthed at Writers’ Buildings last week has gutted a family in Hooghly.

Jyotirmoy Nandi, the family’s sole breadwinner, has been arrested on the charge of being a “conspirator”.

An official no less than the Bengal home secretary had spoken of a plot to set ablaze Writers’, the seat of power now vacated for renovation. In keeping with the gravity of the “conspiracy”, Jyotirmoy, 47, has been charged under multiple sections that could jail him for life if proved guilty.

But some factors have been either overlooked or not given importance when the police picked up the suspect and slapped the charges: Jyotirmoy is a pest controller and he was hired by a wing of the home department itself to spray insecticide in that particular section of Writers’.

As countless common people know, kerosene is often added to insecticides. How safe or ideal the practice is, is another question but few have been charged with a conspiracy to burn down an edifice such as Writers’ because they did what they have been doing for years.

Sources said Jyotirmoy had been using the same concoction for six to seven years to keep the home publication department free of insects. The repository of government reports was earlier located at Bhabani Bhavan, the state police headquarters in Alipore, but was shifted to Writers’ in June.

“Everyone knows that my husband is a pest controller…. Why will he set Writers’ ablaze?” asked Aparna, Jyotirmoy’s wife. “He could enter Writers’ only because he was allowed to enter. Then why was he arrested?” she asked.

Choking back tears at the dilapidated one-storey home at Serampore, she wondered how her husband, who earned around Rs 5,000 a month as a pest controller, came to be labelled a “conspirator”.

Jyotirmoy had left home on Friday morning with a plastic sprayer, a bottle of kerosene and an insecticide.

“He has been doing the same job at several government offices. People would call him up for pest control and he would turn up at the offices with his sprayer, insecticide and kerosene,” said Aparna.

She recalled that her husband came back early on Friday evening but received a call asking him to turn up at Hare Street police station with his sprayer the next day.

“He was arrested as we found kerosene on the floor of Writers’. We had also found some files and papers soaked in kerosene, which was probably brought in a bottle that we recovered from the spot,” said an officer at Hare Street police station.

According to the officer, the odour of kerosene and the insecticide stoked the suspicion of a policeman on duty. Finding kerosene sprinkled on the floor, the policeman raised the alarm and the news reached Nabanna, the new state secretariat, around 5pm.

The officer did not mention if any matchsticks or other combustible material was found at the spot.

Within an hour, home secretary Basudeb Banerjee went public with the claim that a plot was hatched to set Writers’ ablaze, which the police had foiled by acting promptly.

Once the highest security official of the state had referred to a conspiracy, the police had little option but to act.

It was then that Jyotirmoy was contacted and asked to turn up at Hare Street police station. He was eventually taken into custody, slapped with stiff charges (see chart) and produced in court that sent him to police custody till December 6.

However, it is not clear why the cops thought it fit to give him the choice of turning up at the police station the next morning if they really thought he was a “conspirator”.

Had the police anywhere in the world allowed a would-be arsonist – that too out to burn down a building like Writers’ — to roam overnight unmonitored, it would have been treated as an inexcusable dereliction of duty.

“The home secretary issued a statement and so we had to arrest the person who was assigned to spray insecticide. How could we slap him only with the charge of negligence and allow him to walk out on bail?” an officer of Hare Street police station asked.

Home secretary Banerjee could not be contacted despite repeated attempts on Monday. Chief secretary Sanjay Mitra said in reply to a question that he had not received any report on the issue till the afternoon.

Jyotirmoy’s wife Aparna said: “He had told me several times that he would pour kerosene on the floor after finishing his spraying as that was the best possible way to keep the insects away. As he used to do it on Fridays, by the time the offices opened on Monday, the oil would have evaporated.”

If convicted and found guilty, the pest controller may have to serve time in jail, said a lawyer.

“But proving the charge will be difficult…. The person has no criminal antecedents and he has been doing this job for so many years. Above all, establishing the motive behind the conspiracy will be difficult,” the lawyer added.

Contacted, Bismay Rai, the registrar of the home publication department, refused to comment. A source said the person occupying the registrar’s post paid Jyotirmoy Rs 500 on Friday as remuneration for his services.

Other sources who used to work in Writers’ said Jyotirmoy had been coming once a month since June to spray insecticides in the room. “As far as I recall, he has been doing the same job at Bhabani Bhavan for the last six to seven years,” said a source.

Some neighbours of the Nandis wondered why those who had hired the pest controller were not speaking up. “This is not the first time that he had sprayed pesticide and kerosene…. What is the basis of the conspiracy theory that he was trying to set Writers’ ablaze? Couldn’t the people who had hired him tell the cops the truth?” asked Chitta Roy, a neighbour.

Police sources said that in the absence of any specific instruction, they would have no option but to opposed jyotirmoy’s bail on December 6.

At the Serampore home, Jyotirmoy’s aged parents — Biswanath, 85, and Chitra, 73, — are in tears. Jayati, the daughter of Jyotirmoy and Aparna, is expecting and the delivery date is drawing near.

“We spent all our savings on our daughter’s wedding one-and-a-half years ago…. We don’t have the resources to employ a good lawyer to ensure his release,” Aparna said.


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