An argument between a customer and a shopkeeper over the price of potato snowballed Tuesday leading to a group of locals looting vegetables,fish and meat from more than 150 shops in Dharampur Market at Manick Chowk,Malda.
As per the reports,anger was brewing among consumers who had been complaining about the unnatural rise in prices of vegetables. Even potatoes,in spite of the ceiling of Rs 13 per kg put by the state government,were being sold at Rs 20 a kg.
The trouble began when a customer,later identified as Raju Pramanik,entered into an altercation with shopkeeper Byomkesh Karmakar over the prices of potatoes. While Pramanik demanded that shopkeeper should stick to the price fixed by the government,Karmakar refused. Soon,a crowd began to gather. Someone from the crowd,accused the shopkeepers of profiteering,and said they should be taught a lesson. The statement acted as a trigger and soon a group of 30-40 people started looting the shops and within 30 minutes,the entire market comprising about 200 shops including some makeshift shops,was cleaned up.
After getting the information a a team of police officials from Manick Chowk police station rushed to the spot. Shopkeepers said they were forced to raise the prices. We buy vegetables at higher prices and cannot sell them for loss, said Hemanta Doloi,a vegetable seller whose shop was ransacked.
The consumers,however,blamed the shopkeepers for the incident. Other than potatoes,brinjal was being sold at Rs 50 per kg,sweet gourd at Rs 90 a kg and smaller variety of fish for Rs 120 per kg, they said,adding that prices had been hiked to earn profit.
Meanwhile,secretary of the Malda District Merchant Chamber of Commerce,Ujjal Saha alleged police inaction. I called the Additional SP who said that there were only eight personnel at the police station inadequate to handle the situation. Later,they came with more personnel but by then the offenders had left, Saha said and added that if similar attacks continued,they would shut all the markets of the district.
Police,however,negated the allegation. We had got no such phone call. We rushed to the spot as soon as we got an intimation, said a senior official.