The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Puja extortion on cop doorstep

When law-keepers say they don’t want to be too harsh on extortion-dependent pujas, they probably don’t want that to be read as a signal that the extortion — in the name of “pujor chanda” — can be allowed on the campus of a police station and a government office.

But that is how two south Calcutta puja committees seem to have interpreted the kid-glove approach of the cops. In the run-up to the city’s leading festival, Batam Club of Peyara Bagan and Padmapukur Balak Sangha, off Lansdowne Road, have set up camp bang on the public vehicles department (PVD) campus, also housing the Ballygunge police station, forcing every taxi-driver to pay the club-decreed subscription.

With the PVD in the midst of an extensive taxi-meter check, it has been a windfall for the two clubs. The row of taxis awaiting their compulsory check registers a count of over 400 every day. Starting from Ballygunge Circular Road, the waiting cabs snake right up to Ballygunge police station. So, for seven days of taxi-meter checking, starting last Wednesday, members of Batam Club and Padmapukur Yubak Sangha have been assured a line-up of around 3,000 “donors” paying “willingly” to make their festival memorable.

Batam Club, being a “far bigger puja”, made each cabbie pay Rs 11. So, the subscription-figure from taxis every day came to around Rs 4,400; a week of “donations”, consequently, fetched a tidy sum of Rs 30,000-plus.

Yubak Sangha demanded “far less” (Rs 5) as subscription from each taxi. The figure this club had in its kitty, therefore, hovered around the Rs-14,000 mark by the end of Sashthi.

Residents said Batam Club members could afford to demand more, as they “controlled” the queue of taxis at the entrance to the PVD campus. Yubak Sangha members could demand only Rs 5 as by then, most of the cabbies had emptied their pockets.

Ballygunge police station officials, however, said they were yet to receive a single complaint. “How can we know what is happening if there isn’t any complaint'” one officer asked.

Kulwinder Singh of Bhowanipore was one citizen who mustered up the courage to lodge a complaint. “I was shooed away,” he said. Singh also rang up deputy commissioner (detective department) Soumen Mitra’s number. “I was, instead, referred to the Lalbazar control room, where people did not take my complaint seriously,” he alleged.

Deputy commissioner (headquarters) Kuldiep Singh, too, said he was waiting to act only if someone would file a complaint. “People have to come forward to complain,” he admitted, a few days after Mitra had urged citizens to come forward “fearlessly” to help police rein in rogue pujas.

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