DAYS AFTER Chief Mamata Banerjee issued her “last warning” to Trinamool Congress councillors allegedly involved in the running of syndicates, party MLA and Bidhannagar Mayor Sabyasachi Dutta on Monday claimed that “syndicates were a creation of the media”.
This comes a day after Dutta defended the existence of such syndicates in an interview to a Bengali daily. “Even the CM knows that I get a salary of Rs 40,000 to Rs 45,000 and this isn’t enough for my family. So, I do business,” he had said.
The Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation has been at the heart of almost all controversies that have revolved around the syndicate business — an extortion racket prevailing in areas where unemployed youths, backed by the ruling party, force contractors into buying inferior building materials from them at a premium. The Bidhannagar area, comprising Salt Lake, Rajarhat and New Town, has seen a massive real estate boom in the recent past. Dutta, in the past, had defended the syndicate business, claiming that he “stands by unemployed youths”.
“Nowhere has Mamata Banerjee said that she is against business. Doing business is not illegal. As far as the syndicate are concerned, it is a complete fabrication of the media. These are cooperatives, run by local youths,” he told The Indian Express.
Dutta claimed these cooperatives were the result of land acquisition drives conducted by the erstwhile Left Front government. Those who lost land were reportedly encouraged by the Left to form cooperatives to supply construction material. While the Opposition claimed these cooperatives have now transformed into “criminal cartels”, Dutta said it is just “business”.
“I am simply looking out for the underprivileged in my area. They look to the construction business for employment. To say that I am warring with my party chief is a complete lie. We have a relationship like brother and sister,” he added.
In a meeting of Trinamool councillors last week, Mamata had driven home the message that the arrest of Salt Lake councillor Anindya Chattopadhyay was not the aberration and anyone going against the party line on syndicates and corrupt practices would be similarly arrested. She was quoted by a source at the meeting as saying: “You only know how to keep yourselves busy with syndicates. People from all over the state have learnt about syndicates from you… One of our Bidhannagar councillors (Chattopadhyay) is in jail… Councillors are busy with (currency) notes or with conspiracy. Instead of notes, focus on votes. Do not get in the way of people’s needs… Think long term. Those here to make some money in two years will not be spared by the law, the party or the society. Figure out what you want to do.”
After Chattopadhyay, Ward 4 councillor Dumpy Shahnawaz Mondal had come under the police scanner following a complaint alleging that he had forcibly stopped work at a construction site to extort money. Neither Dutta nor Mondal were present at the above mentioned meeting.
Sources in Trinamool maintained Mamata had made it clear to all party members that those involved in the syndicate business would be prosecuted, particularly in the Rajarhat area. “She has made it clear to all. She will take action against them unless they mend their ways,” said a senior leader.