CUTTACK: The restrictions imposed by the State government for Durga Puja has failed to bring any respite for the city’s business community.
The puja committees of the city, which are preparing for a low-key celebration this year, have started fleecing businessmen and commercial establishments by demanding ‘chanda’ (donation) for the festival.
Two persons of College Square puja committee were arrested on Tuesday by Malgodown police for allegedly collecting ‘chanda’ from a businessman forcibly. The accused, Sarat Kumar Behera and Rakesh Kumar Behera had allegedly forced the proprietor of Durga Steels to pay Rs 13,000 for the festival.
The accused, one of whom is a ‘dahi bara seller’ and the other a snacks vendor, had given a receipt to the businessman for Rs 26,000 and later settled for Rs 13,000. They threatened the businessman when the latter expressed his inability to pay the donation on Monday.
Cuttack Zone-I ACP Amarendra Panda told the media that the action against the puja committee members was taken basing a complaint lodged by the businessman. The accused were released on bail the day they were arrested. This has irked local traders who feel the move will only embolden puja committees.
Justifying the move to collect donations from local traders and market committees, the office bearers of College Square puja committee told media that they have planned to install a silver tableau and throne for the goddess’ idol at the pandal and the work has now been stopped owing to financial crisis made worse by the pandemic.
“It is a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the puja committee by some persons with vested interests,” alleged the office bearers.
Meanwhile, Cuttack DCP Prateek Singh on Thursday urged the city’s denizens to come forward and inform the police about forceful collection of donations in the name of puja.
“We will keep your identity confidential and take strong action against unscrupulous elements for collecting chanda,” tweeted Singh. However, the DCP’s assurance has failed to inspire confidence in the businessmen from College Square.
“The claim of Cuttack Police of acting tough against ‘forcible puja chanda collectors’ appear hollow as is evident from the release of two offenders on the day of their arrest,” they said, adding the traders of the area are wary of retaliation by the accused. Singh said the police cannot book anyone for activities other than those mentioned in the FIR filed by a victim.
“However, we will protect the complainants if they face any threat to their lives,” he assured.