I-T department raids Kolkata's red-light area

More than Rs 1.5 crore was recovered in cash

I-T department raids Kolkata's red-light area

In what could be the first ever income tax (I-T) raid on a red-light area in India, officials of the I-T department cracked down on Sonagachhhi, the red-light district in the middle of north Kolkata. 

The raid, which started on Thursday morning, continued till late in the evening, and the haul in undeclared income was substantial.

While the I-T officials recovered more than Rs 1.5 crore in cash, besides a host of other valuable items, including gold ornaments, the total extent of the recovery is yet to be ascertained. 

While the tax department is tight-lipped about the raid and its findings, sources said they were startled with the insights received during the raid. 

The crackdown was conducted on buildings that house high-end sex workers, who charge more than Rs 5,000-8,000 for a few hours.

The raid, which started at around 8 am on Thursday, left one of the largest red-light districts in Asia in a tizzy, as most of the sex workers and their agents were preparing to go to sleep after a hard night’s work. According to eyewitnesses, things moved at a fast pace and the raid started without the locals having any clue as to what was about to transpire.

“The I-T officials had come armed with significant information, and it was easy to see that their tip-off was solid. They seized a large amount of cash and sealed a number of safes.

 The raid mostly targeted buildings like Night Lovers, Prem Bandhan, Ganga Jamuna and Neel Kamal, where high-profile sex workers entertain affluent clientèle. The officials also raided the houses of a number of brothels owners living in the area.

Bharati Dey of Durbar Samanvaya Committee, an NGO that works with sex workers in the area, said a raid on the area is not out of place as a lot of money exchanges hands in the area, and house-owners charge exorbitant rates for rooms. 

“Some house-owners rent out rooms at Rs 1-2 lakh a month. Since the system is illegal, there is no paperwork, and an accumulation of unaccounted-for money. We have been fighting for a transparent way of renting rooms and houses for sex workers,” she said.

According to sources, the officials found during the raid that the prevalent rate of rent for a room as small as 50 square feet is Rs 1-1.5 lakh, while a 100-square-foot room could carry a rent tag of no less than Rs 2.5 lakh. 

“Some of the rates are almost as high as or even higher than that of Mumbai’s Nariman Point, which has the most expensive commercial properties in India. Since the women renting these rooms make enough money to afford the monthly rent, there have been not many complaints,” said an official. 

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