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Extortion finger from within

Durgapur, July 9: A Trinamul MLA in Durgapur has written to police urging them to stop “extortion” by a construction-materials syndicate allegedly run by a party colleague, the first such letter to the law-enforcers by a ruling party leader.

The letter by Durgapur East MLA Nikhil Banerjee to the Asansol-Durgapur police commissioner names Khokon Ruidas, the vice-president of the Trinamul trade union at the Durgapur RIP (Rehabilitation Industrial Plot) industrial estate, a cluster of small-scale industries.

MLA Banerjee’s communication to the police comes at a time syndicates allegedly run by Trinamul factions have mushroomed in areas experiencing a real estate boom, such as Asansol, Durgapur, Rajarhat-New Town, Kasba and Barasat. The fight for the pie has assumed alarming proportions with syndicates in and around Calcutta getting involved in frequent bloody battles on the streets.

In his letter, MLA Banerjee, also the chairman of the Asansol-Durgapur Development Authority (ADDA), has mentioned “tolabaji (extortion)”, a frequent allegation made by real estate developers who also accuse the syndicates of forcing them to buy construction materials at inflated rates.

Banerjee has written that the RIP industrial estate in Durgapur, set up by the West Bengal Small Industries Development Corporation in the 1960s, is being “disturbed” by “a few local youths loyal to Kusumtala Syndicate leader Khokon Ruidas”. The MLA urged the police commissioner to “stop their tolabaji activity”. Several small-scale industries have units in the estate.

Although Banerjee has not mentioned Khokon’s party affiliation of Khokon, Ruidas said he was the vice-president of the Trinamul union at the RIP industrial estate. Trinamul sources said Khokon was also the party secretary of Durgapur Municipal Corporation’s ward 28.

“I have been getting complaints from many factory owners that they are being disturbed by some local youths who run syndicates. I have urged the police to take action against them,” Banerjee, a doctor, told The Telegraph.

Khokon denied he ran a syndicate. “I am not involved with any construction materials supply syndicate. Many local Trinamul leaders who have switched over from the CPM after our party came to power are running these syndicates and extorting industrialists. I am the vice-president of the Trinamul trade union at the industrial estate. INTTUC district chief Prabhat Chatterjee is our president,” he said.

Khokon said he had no link with Kusumtala-Muchipara Welfare Society, which MLA Banerjee has accused of running a syndicate.

Asansol-Durgapur police commissioner Vineet Goyal said: “I am not aware of any letter from the ADDA chairman. But if the allegations of extortion are true, we will take action.”

INTTUC leader Prabhat Chatterjee refused comment, saying he was busy with the chief minister’s administrative meeting in Burdwan.

Several factory owners and real-estate developers have complained to the police and ADDA that they were being extorted by supply syndicates allegedly backed by Trinamul.

Malay Manna, one of the partners of Manufacturer of Engineering Equipment, which operates from the RIP industrial estate, said that last month, he had lodged a complaint against Khokon with the Durgapur mayor. “Ruidas has been extorting us and threatening us that we would have to fold up our business if we don’t pay up,” Manna said.

Amit Roy, the vice-president of the Durgapur Small Industries Association, which has 80 members, said the umbrella organisation had decided to desist from making further investments in the area.

“Several syndicates are forcing factory owners to take materials and labourers from them. If anybody disagrees, the syndicate members harass him,” Roy said.