The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bar raised brows, hackles

Call it Baba Buddha bar or Hotel Merlin Park, controversy has never strayed far from the dazzling white, three-storeyed building on the Salt Lake-Rajarhat border.

From the first brick laid to the first bottle uncorked, the bar that has always been known for its notoriety shot to sleaze prominence on Sunday, with the arrest of athlete-turned-MP Jyotirmoyee Sikdar’s husband Avtar Singh.

The list of allegations against the restaurant-cum-bar cum-hotel at a glance reads like this:

• Waterbody filled to construct the building

• Starting a bar without a proper licence

• Doubling as a refuge for local hoodlums

• Running a sex racket.

“The owners sought a no-objection certificate from us for a bar licence. But we did not give them the certificate as residents of the area had raised a protest,” said Dilip Gupta, chairman of CPM-controlled Bidhannagar Municipality.

“The former and present councillors of the ward had also opposed the granting of a bar licence to the establishment,” he recalled.

The municipality did not respond to the no-objection application and the bar licence was later obtained by Baba Buddha, allegedly “through other sources”.

In 2000, just after the Salt Lake civic elections, the waterbody was filled up. In 2001, construction started and in June that year, the bar-cum-restaurant opened its doors.

Thus was born the Baba Buddha bar. In 2002, after protests from residents against an alleged flesh-trade racket in the “illegal bar”, the name was changed to Hotel Merlin Park — ‘a place for Indian Tandoor and Chinese food’.

“Initially we were told that this was going to be a school. But later, we saw it was a bar,” said Chameli Naskar, former Trinamul Congress councillor of the ward.

“This is a bar where sleaze rackets have been thriving for some time now,” she alleged.

Salt Lake residents had also submitted several memoranda against the bar and demanded it be shut down.

Naskar alleged receiving “threat calls” from Avtar Singh. She had lodged a complaint with Bidhannagar (East) police station in this regard.

Sources said the bar members enjoyed the patronage of senior CPM leaders of North 24-Parganas. A number of party leaders used to frequent the bar, they alleged.

All this forced Alimuddin Street to react. “It is just hearsay that Jyotirmoyee Sikdar’s husband is the owner of the hotel,” said the party’s state secretary Anil Biswas.

“We have information that the bar has been leased by the original owners. But we have to go through the documents first,”he added.

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