With the West Bengal police still to make an arrest in the alleged rape of an elderly nun and ransacking of a convent school in Ranaghat, and the state deciding to hand over the case to the CBI, The Indian Express has learnt that one lead being looked at is whether the incident had a “real-estate link” involving people interested in a vacant plot which the school didn’t want to sell.
National Highway 34 runs through Ranaghat and work on its expansion is underway. On one side is the nun’s school and 25 “stalls” where agencies offer “security to interested parties, protection, permanent/temporary jobs” in a town where mushrooming of schools has created a huge demand for security guards, teachers and non-teaching staff.
Most of these stalls are said to be controlled by a local politician who switched loyalty to the Trinamool Congress recently. The stalls, which were encroachments along the highway, have been told to move because of the expansion work.
Sources said these stalls had been eyeing a vacant plot adjoining the school as their next stop. Feelers were sent for negotiating a deal but the school said it was not interested in selling the land, sources said.
A Krishnanagar-based missionary, attached to the nun’s school, said: “If rehabilitation of the displaced agencies is in question, it is for the government to do that, not the school. In fact, the school, which opened 18 years ago on local demand, has always felt the need for more land to offer better facilities to students.”
Outraged over the March 14 attack, many in Ranaghat want police to “screen and probe” people who do “contract jobs” for these ‘agency’ stalls.
Asked about the possibility of a real-estate link to the incident, Indrajit Basu, sub-divisional police officer at Ranaghat, said: “The church and missionary bodies possess huge prime land. Disputes or clash of interests over this can be a factor. All aspects are being looked into. We will be most happy to say there has been a breakthrough in the case.”
Sources said the Trinamool Congress leader, who is the local real estate overlord, purchased 80 cottah — one cottah is 720 square feet — of prime land along NH-34 from the Roman Catholic Church for a little over Rs 1 crore though the deal, going by the prevailing market rate there, should have been worth Rs 10 crore.
An official said when the sale was announced, no one in town showed any interest to buy the land. The church wanted to sell the land because it was finding it difficult to keep out encroachers. A portion was also being acquired by the highway authorities for expansion work.
The widening of NH-34 has escalated the price of land along the highway from Rs 2-Rs 3 lakh per cottah to about Rs 8-10 lakh per cottah.
Father John, at the office of the Archbishop of Krishnanagar under whose jurisdiction the Ranaghat Roman Catholic Church falls, said: “We were not getting buyers. But the moment it was sold, questions did arise from certain quarters why was the property sold at such a low rate.”
The Indian Express visited the residence of the Trinamool Congress leader and requested his staff for a meeting but was denied.
Police sources said they were also probing why the security guard at the school was “the least harmed” person in the four-hour attack on March 14. The guard was not assaulted, only tied up. Moreover, an iron rod on the window of an outer room — through which the attackers gained entry — was filed away. To cut the rod would have taken 15 to 30 minutes, so why didn’t the guard inside react, sources said.
In the last one year, at least three security guards have been sacked by the school authorities. Police teams have been sent to their homes in “North India” to question them on the attack because the assailants seemed to be very familiar with the school layout, sources said.