The Telegraph
Saturday , August 4 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999

Howrah turns hotbed of crime
Extortion fight earns enmity

Scrap iron from closed factories, illegal parking fees and a real estate boom — urban Howrah is a heady mix of opportunities for gangs who won’t stop at anything in their eagerness to cash in.

Family and acquaintances say Sumantra Bagchi fell to bullets on Thursday night because he had resisted extortion attempts by one such gang operating in the vicinity of the Indian Botanic Garden in Shibpur.

Bagchi and his new-found political clout had apparently started posing a threat to this gang ever since he “took up the case” of a Shalimar-based godown owner, Rajesh Singh, who had turned up at his door to seek protection from extortionists.

That was around a month-and-a-half ago. Singh had complained to Bagchi — popular as Babuji — about the gang’s alleged demand for a lump sum of Rs 5 lakh and a monthly payout of Rs 5,000.

Bagchi went to the Howrah police commissionerate on Singh’s behalf and lodged a formal complaint with commissioner Ajey Ranade.

“A fortnight later, my husband received a call from a local youth named Bhogey. I remember it was afternoon. He asked my husband to withdraw the complaint. They had an argument over the phone, following which the youth turned up at our house holding a revolver,” Moumita, the victim’s wife, told Metro.

“It was after this incident that my husband wrote a letter to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, saying he feared an attack on his life and wanted police protection,” she recounted.

Sources said members of the gang allegedly responsible for Bagchi’s murder — wife Moumita has named Dharmendra Singh, Debanand Thakur, Santosh Singh and Dara Singh among the accused — regularly extorted money from businesses, including real estate promoters, and smuggled out scrap iron from the GKW Factory.

The gang’s illegal earnings from extortion alone are estimated to be several lakh rupees a month.

The police have so far arrested only Santosh Singh out of the 13 named in the FIR.

“Dharmendra and Debanand were allegedly involved in the murder of Krishnadhan Bardhan, alias Kala, on Andul Road in October 2010. They also have links with a group extorting money from traders in Howrah on behalf of Barokhoka, who is now in jail,” a source said.

Kala’s and Bagchi’s murder aren’t isolated incidents. Howrah is now a happening place for criminals.

On July 23, unidentified persons fired at a real estate promoter from Baksara named Sanjoy Palangdar. Two days later, a woman was allegedly raped and robbed of her ornaments under the Santragachhi rail overbridge.

On July 30, Amit Gupta, a Class XI student, took a bullet in his left leg when criminals ostensibly targeted someone else in Shibpur’s Dayal Banerjee Lane.

Although Bagchi’s murder looks to be the fallout of his resistance to extortion, the police are also looking at other possibilities. Investigators have started digging into the victim’s business interests, including real estate.