Grocery sellers for neighbourhood, arms dealers for cops

Day after ASI shot, councillor says crime in Garden Reach down by 80%

The port area of Garden Reach is a den for criminals — so much so that over 90 per cent of the youth in the area are engaged in extortion and smuggling, according to police.

"Santoshpur and Rabindranagar have become hotspots of drug dealing and Bat Tala has become famous for arms exchange," said a senior police official. He said these activities were patronised by political leaders, mostly from the ruling party but some from the Opposition camp as well. "It is not possible to carry out these transactions without political patronage," he added.

It was in Garden Reach that ASI Tapas Chowdhury was shot dead during Tuesday's clash between Congress and Trinamool Congress student unions at Harimohan Ghosh college during filing of nominations for a student election.

After yesterday's incident, all the dealers of arms and narcotic substances have gone underground, police sources said. Many have a side business of dealing in groceries in the market on Karl Marx Sarani.

"It is very hot at the moment. We have to lie low for some time till things cool down, and then resume business," said a 20-plus youth.

A large part of the port area is virtually ruled by transport company owners. They hire young hands who double up as musclemen and work for different parties when needed.

"There are around 20 leading transport companies. If you are a new entrant here, you won't be able to load your consignment unless they are paid their cut. Some of the trailer drivers you will see are under 18. I wonder how they procured a heavy vehicle driving licence. And sometimes police cannot take any action — due to political pressure or because they end up forging a good relationship with these antisocials," he said.

Chairman of Borough 15 and councillor of ward 134 Md Iqbal alias Munna, who was in the eye of storm after yesterday's incident of violence, admitted that criminal activities were prevalent in the area.

He added that it was created in the CPM era and had been brought under control by the present government.

"Drugs and arms and ammunition dealing is down to 20 per cent of what it used to be during the time of CPM, which has created several antisocials in Muslim belts of the city. They lured these youths who hail from very poor families and exploited them. The present government is on a reform drive. The main person behind these criminal activities here is CPM district chairman Dilip Sen," Iqbal said.

Iqbal agreed that Bat Tala is a favourite hangout of these dealers because it is a backward area and not frequented by people. Police, too, take some time to reach there.

The councillor met Trinamool heavyweight and local MLA Firhad Hakim this afternoon. While he was leaving, Hakim told the Indian Express, "The person who was injured in the gunfire yesterday is one of our boys, He is admitted in CMRI. Now if the assailant is of TMC as well, as it is alleged, why would he shoot someone of the same party?"

Regarding Md Ibne Saud and SK Sovan, who were seen beside him in the TV footage and who have been arrested, Hakim said, "Ibne had been with us for some time but we never thought he would resort to such violence. He was mainly into social service. We were shocked ourselves. As far as Sovan is concerned, he doesn't belong to our party. We are public figures and people can stand beside us to appear in photographs. Does that mean we are associated with everyone?" he asked.

Dilip Sen, on the other hand, said Garden Reach and Metiaburz were part of an industrial area. "It is a port area and after several jute and cotton mills were shut, over 55,000 people were left unemployed. Some of them were self-employed. Of late, with the backing of the ruling party, many have got involved in antisocial activities. They are heavily backed by the councillor Md Iqbal alias Munna," he said.

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