Here’s a ‘bandh’ deal that is being forced down the throats of shopkeepers in and around Tarnaka. For the last three weeks, extortion gangs masquerading as Telangana supporters have been reportedly heckling shop owners to cough up protection money to buy safety for their shops on bandh days.
Demanding sums ranging from a few thousands to even a couple of crores, gangs of ‘students’ collecting money say it is for the ‘T’ agitation. The underlying threat is that not paying up would mean damage to their shops. Sources in the police say they do have such information about people collecting money. However, B Anjaiah, Osmania University inspector said he hadn’t received any complaints yet.
Shop owners say they are too scared but those aware of these developments say that this activity has only intensified in the last few days. And here are some of the recent demands made, as per sources: shops have been asked to shell out Rs 10 lakh; a high school in the area was asked for Rs 5 lakh; the owner of an under construction commercial complex was asked to pay Rs 4 crore. In each case, shop owners have paid up, albeit after haggling and bringing down the price of safety to an affordable rate.
“They have paid Rs 60,000 if a lakh is demanded while some small shops have even given Rs 10,000 so as not to agitate the members collecting the money. People are paying discreetly and are not reporting the matter fearing it would backfire,’’ says a Tarnaka local, adding that the age group of the people moving around would be in their early or mid-30’s and are persistent in their demand for money. If one visit doesn’t ensure the money, they make a second or even a third visit, locals say.
Old timers in the area note that while such activities have been witnessed even in the past owing to Tarnaka’s proximity to OU, the groups have never been so insistent, systematic or even desperate.
“In one case, they not only demanded a ransom from a school, but even admission for two children,’’ said a source, who suspected that the alleged ‘T’ supporters extorting money would be the students who have been on the campus endlessly for the last many years and have families to support.
Whether this money is going into the pockets of some individuals or collective funds for the agitation is unclear. “Previously, it was clear the money went to their own pockets, but now it seems like a common fund.
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