Calcutta, March 11: Crimelords shielded by political leaders in the vicinity of what should be the city's most protected locality have robbed police of sleep and left them red in the face.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee lives on Palm Avenue, a neighbourhood that has made news for all the wrong reasons over the past year and the police ' despite having turned the stretch into a fortress ' have always been found chasing goons after the crime is committed.
Palm Avenue is now priority No. 1 for the Lalbazar bosses. But even that seems no deterrent.
Two groups allegedly owing allegiance to the CPM and Trinamul Congress fought a pitched battle over the possession of a vacant plot off the road last night.
The VVIP resident of 59 Palm Avenue was in Delhi to attend the CPM politburo meeting then. Maybe that is why the securitymen were caught snoozing when the clash broke out a stone's throw away.
The police have identified Gullu alias Raja, Mona, Aslam alias Pappu and Rabiul Naskar as the masterminds of all criminal activities in the area.
All of them, a senior officer said, enjoy political patronage. Gullu and Mona, who are engaged in extortion and the real estate business, are allegedly backed by the local CPM. Aslam and Rabiul, who are involved in burglaries and extortion, enjoy patronage of the Trinamul Congress.
Another senior police officer recounted how Karaya police station officer-in-charge Deepak Dutta was transferred overnight after Gullu shot at Mona in November 2004.
He added that mushrooming slums over a vast stretch of Palm Avenue and Karaya have contributed largely to the spurt in criminal activities.
'All four and their associates take shelter in the shanties. Raids are conducted in the slums every now and then but the goons flee to their hideouts at Ghutiari Sharif in South 24-Parganas with the help of their political godfathers,' a Karaya police officer said.
Gullu, who controls the real estate business with his brother Prakash, was arrested in 2003, while Mona was picked up in August 2004. Both of them are out on bail now.
'We are really worried over the recurrence of incidents on Palm Avenue and adjoining areas,' south division deputy commissioner N.R. Babu said.
According to the police, Aslam and Rabiul have also invested in the real-estate business. Local people said Rabiul, a suspected Bangladeshi, stays in his hideout at Pakistan Bazar on Broad Street.
A Karaya officer said: 'We are conducting regular raids, but the residents are not co-operating. Moreover, they have political support.'