Extortion rackets run by anti-social elements, many of who operate under the cover of religious and political organisations, are posing a threat to public peace in several places in the district, according to the police. Anti-social elements are extorting money from traders and residents in the name of Onam and Athapookalam celebrations.
The Rural police said the activities of a particular organisation, including “extorting” money from the public under the pretext of organising a religious festival, a practice that has its origins in North India, were threatening public peace in suburban Pallickal and Varkala neighbourhoods. They said a cadre-based organisation opposed its activities in their areas of influence, chiefly large housing colonies for the rural poor. Fights between the activists of the opposing organisations were increasing in the rural district.
In the city, the Peroorkada police have registered a case of extortion against a few anti-social elements on the charge of attempting to extort money from residents and traders.
City Police Commissioner Manoj Abraham had recently warned of strict action against those who extorted money from citizens. However, a senior official said, the police action against extortionists was “hampered” by the lack of “specific” complaints.
Gangsters and their minions extorted money from toddy shop and bar hotel licensees, owners of wayside eateries, hawkers, illegal sand-miners and those selling spirit and peddling drugs during the season.
Sources said a bar hotel owner in Medical College Police station limits paid protection money to an armed gang operating out of a nearby colony. They said the gang often forced the bar owner to provide free food and liquor to them on holidays.
The police seemed to have scarce information on the thriving extortion racket in the district, which severely limited its action against such elements.
A residents' association office-bearer said the money extorted thus was spent on harassing people by hiring sound systems to play blaring music round the clock. Residents also had to put up with drunk revelry and riotous behaviour at public places during Onam.
Often, anti-social elements used banned conical-type speakers, concealed inside box-type speakers, to amplify the sound much above the permissible decibel limit (not more than 55 decibels during the day and 45 during the night) at festival venues.
Several private firms, chiefly textile and jewellery shops, also used public address systems to advertise their products.
The public can inform about extortion and other anti-social elements by calling the police at 1090 (Crime Stopper) or 0471-2331403. They can also e-mail their complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The identity of informants would be kept a secret, a senior official said.