The murder of promoter Atikur Rahaman in broad daylight is only one example of how south-east Kolkata, including areas such as Tiljala, Topsia, Beniapukur and Karaya, is turning into a safe haven for those involved in illegal construction. A rise in illegal construction during the last three years has pitched construction syndicates and promoters against one another, resulting in a growth spurt in crime. According to the police, the South East Division has emerged as another Rajarhat-New Town when it comes to such conflicts.
Rahaman’s murder comes only seven months after a 22-year-old youth, Zubair Hussain, died after two rival groups — involved in the construction business at Palm Avenue in Karaya — clashed. At least 10 people beat up Hussain with hockey sticks, wickets and iron rods. He later succumbed to his injuries at a hospital.
The illegal real estate business shot to the limelight when Quest Mall opened at Park Circus near Tiljala in 2013. The area suddenly made way for multi-storied buildings, with every second person accused of being directly or indirectly connected to the promoting business. “The current rate in the area is a minimum of Rs 4,000 per square feet, which may go up to Rs 6,000 per sq ft. Real estate prices have gone up in the last few years,” said a local resident.
Locals claimed that flats on Shamsul Huda Road, just behind the mall, used to earlier sell at Rs 1,300 per sq ft to Rs 1,500 per sq ft. Now, the same are being sold for Rs 5,000 per sq ft to Rs 6,000 per sq ft. “With more and more promoters joining the race, the situation is becoming worse. Nobody wants to give an inch,” said a local police officer.
A local promoter, a friend of Atikur Rahaman, explained how the promoting business works here. “We buy land from landowners for new projects… we also add more floors to already constructed buildings. While the cost of constructing a new building varies from Rs 1,300 per sq ft to Rs 1,600 per sq ft, we sell flats for Rs 4,000 per sq ft. Thus, we earn around Rs 2,500 per sq ft. If we sell a flat of 1,000 per sq ft, then we get around Rs 25 lakh…,” he said.
“The illegal construction being carried out is not a secret… even the police and local administration know about it,” he said. When contacted, a police officer refused to speak on illegal construction. However, he said: “These people enjoy political patronage. There are about 2,000 illegal constructions in Karaya alone… 400 of them are under construction.”