Money may not grow on the Maidan trees but it sure can fall from the Chowringhee sky, salesman Gopi Narayan Kundu learnt on Wednesday.
Kundu was at work in a sari showroom on the ground floor of the 21-storeyed Everest House, on Jawaharlal Nehru Road, when a red wastebasket landed with a thud on the pavement outside the shop’s glass door around 12.50pm.
The basket contained Rs 3.82 lakh in bundles of Rs 100, 500 and 1,000 and some loose cash, discreetly thrown out of an office 14 floors above in the midst of an income tax raid.
Why was it raining cash on a Chowringhee pavement in recession-hit times? Praveen Moosaddee, the middle-aged businessman to whom the cash belonged, had apparently telephoned one of his employees in the office during the raid to say that he should empty the safe and throw out the money in a basket. Moosaddee would wait on the pavement in front of the building to collect it.
The lakhs landed where they were meant to but Kundu and his colleague Amit Sarkar’s cries of “taka… taka (money… money)” led to a crowd assembling on the pavement before the businessman could reach the spot to lay his hands on the consignment from the sky.
From food vendors and shopkeepers to passers-by and tie-clad executives, everyone who was there stopped whatever they were doing to crowd around the basket. A few hands reached out for the cash but Kundu and Sarkar wouldn’t let anyone pick up even a loose note.
“Please don’t touch the money. Let’s find out to whom it belongs,” the duo said.
Another employee of the sari showroom, S. Ahmed, called Shakespeare Sarani police station. Moosaddee meanwhile broke through the cordon to lay claim to the cash. “Do you have proof that the cash is yours?” one of the salesmen asked.
The businessman took out a visiting card and introduced himself as the director of Sandip Mech Engineers Ltd, a firm that manufactures spare parts for heavy machinery, with its office on the 14th floor of Everest House. “The basket accidentally fell from the hands of one of my employees,” Moosaddee said.
He also declared that the basket contained over Rs 3.5 lakh in cash. The notes were counted and the result — Rs 3.82 lakh — convinced everyone that the cash did belong to the businessman. They handed him the basket and off went Moosaddee with his money — but in the wrong direction.
Kundu told Metro that they got suspicious when Moosaddee headed towards the Shakespeare Sarani crossing instead of entering Everest House.
“Where are you going? Didn’t you say your office was in this building?” someone asked, prompting Moosaddee to take to his heels.
Two police officers who had reached the spot by then ran to stop the businessman and asked him to take them to his office for verification. “We were surprised to discover that an income tax raid was on. We handed the cash and the businessman over to the tax officials after getting him to sign a declaration,” one of the police officers told Metro.
Sources said houses owned by Moosaddee in Salt Lake and New Alipore were raided, too.
The raid on the Everest House office was led by the deputy commissioner of the income tax department’s central circle, Nicholas Murmu.
Weren’t Kundu and his colleagues tempted by the big money that came tumbling down, even for a moment? “Everything happened so fast that it never crossed my mind. I was more worried about a bomb landing on the pavement when I heard the thud,” chuckled the sari salesman.