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Friday, 10 February 2012

Fingers at 15% political commission


Fingers at 15% political commission

ZEESHAN JAWED
Calcutta, Feb. 9: Some of the political hands that allegedly nurture and feed off the amorphous entity called “the syndicate” have been named by disgruntled operators from within.
Several syndicate members have told The Telegraph that a hefty commission to Trinamul Congress satraps is one of the main reasons forcing them to short-change contractors in New Town.
The conversations — some of which are on tape — threw up the names of some Trinamul leaders who the syndicate members said were directly or indirectly associated with the chains that monopolise the supply of building materials.
The syndicate members would not have spoken to the newspaper under normal circumstances. However, brewing discontent over the commission appears to have prompted some of them to step forward and speak up but on condition of anonymity as they fear for their safety.
For the sake of convenience, the 3,000-hectare township has been divided into three regions — Bhangar, New Town and Rajarhat — to ensure that syndicates do not fight among each other.
One name that cropped up was that of Arabul Islam, the former MLA of Bhangar. “Arabul-bhai charges 15 per cent on every consignment of construction materials that the syndicates dump at construction sites within the Bhangar block,” said a man who identified himself as a close aide of the former MLA.
According to the person in his mid-fifties, the rate chart for the construction material is prepared keeping in mind the profit margin of the syndicate members and the commission. In exchange for the commission, the syndicate members are given protection from police and big promoters in Bhangar.
The South 24-Parganas block, which borders Rajarhat, is part of the upcoming township. It includes the 50 acres each the erstwhile Left Front government had allotted to Infosys and Wipro. The formal handover was held up because of protests from landowners over inadequate compensation.
Arabul had then led the agitation against the Left government’s “land grab”. The same leader, however, played a different role after the change of guard at Writers’.
“The government is building a road to connect the project sites to the Rajarhat Expressway. Arabul-da is overseeing its implementation so that no disgruntled landowner can hinder the work,” said a close aide.
Another aide of Arabul — also an active member of the same syndicate — said the former MLA was eyeing the contract to supply materials to the proposed Infosys office in Bhangar. “He is our leader and we do not do anything without his consent,” said the aide.
The aide, however, added that resentment was building up among some syndicate members over the demand for commissions. “Giving him such a big share leaves us with very little. But he has assured us that he will sit with us and negotiate the percentage after settling certain party-related issues in Bhangar,” said the aide whose syndicate has over 30 members.
Several contractors have complained of dwindling quantity and quality of materials being supplied. The syndicate members claimed that they have to cut corners to accommodate the demands for commission and protect their share of the pie.
Contacted, Arabul denied not only his involvement but also the very existence of syndicates (see graphic).
Another leader whose name figured in the conversations was Sabyasachi Dutta, the MLA of New Town and vice-chairman of Bidhannagar municipality.
In the past, whenever this newspaper contacted Dutta, he had always denied having any knowledge about syndicates and their arm-twisting tactics in New Town. Today, the MLA said all he tried to do was to ensure there was no law-and-order problem and he wanted villagers also to progress (see graphic).
“He controls all the syndicates in New Town. Whenever we have any problem we just need to give him a call and he would be there by our side,” said an aide who was previously associated with the CPM but switched sides after the 2008 panchayat elections that marked Trinamul’s rise in what used to be a CPM fortress.
According to the aide, Sabyasachi has a political interest in retaining control over the syndicates. “All the boys are either our supporters or party workers. Sabyasachi-da has to run the party in New Town. If the party does not allow us to run syndicates, we will never associate ourselves with Trinamul. Sabyasachi-da understands this very well and gives us shelter if we run into any trouble with the police or builders,” said the aide.
Another aide in Bhangar recalled how “100 of them” met Sabyasachi in November when there was confusion over territorial demarcation between syndicates. “He suggested we should oppose anybody who tries to stop us from supplying. According to him, that was the only way to solve this problem,” said a syndicate member.
At least one minister’s name was also mentioned by some syndicate members. Purnendu Bose, labour minister and Rajarhat MLA, does not get directly involved in matters related to syndicates.
“Several of his close associates like Babai Bose are very powerful in Rajarhat and they control the supply of construction materials,” said a syndicate member.
Some syndicate members suggested Trinamul functionaries down the ladder also control the levers. They cited the name of Prabir Kar , Trinamul block president in Rajarhat, as an example. “His men conduct business in Rajarhat,” said an aide.