The arrest of a man scouting for prospective kidney donors brings to light an organised trade in human organs in West Bengal, with links in Chennai.
SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY in Sheoraphuli and Serampore
DESPITE a strict vigil by the government, an illegal trade in kidney exists in West Bengal. In a recent incident, the State police, with the help of an alert citizen, arrested an operative of the gang involved in the illegal trade of human organs at Sheoraphuli town in Hooghly district, 45 km from Kolkata. Preliminary investigations led to the alleged mastermind of the racket, Laltu Roy of Kolkata, who had links in Chennai. The racketeers lured, through newspaper advertisements, impoverished, desperate people into "donating" their kidneys for Rs.60,000 or even less. The going rate for a donor kidney is currently between Rs.1 lakh and Rs.1.5 lakhs.
An advertisement on June 26 in the popular Bengali daily Bartaman, read: "My husband needs O+/O kidney. Interested parties contact Mr. Basu, 35/C Station Road (in front of Udayan Cinema Hall). Mobile: 8931022972."
Raju Roy, a 28-year-old waiter at a small eatery on the outskirts of Sheoraphuli town, saw the advertisement. Three years ago his wife had died giving birth to twins, who too did not survive. He had borrowed heavily for the treatment of the babies and found himself in a debt of Rs.25,000. His daily wage of Rs.25 was not enough to repay the debt. So he decided to contact "Basu" on the mobile. Basu agreed at once to pay Rs.60,000 for one of his kidneys.
At around 5-30 p.m. on July 3, after waiting for a while outside the Udayan cinema hall in Sheoraphuli, Raju became impatient and made a call to the mobile number from a small stationary shop. He gave a description of himself to the man at the other end so that he could identify him. The owner of the shop, who does not wish to be named, was intrigued when he overheard the conversation. He had heard a similar phone conversation a week before, when another young man, who had come from Medinipur, called a mobile phone number, and on describing himself was approached by a slim man, around 40 years of age, who shook his hand and led him away to the railway station.
During a brief conversation with the "slim man", the shopkeeper had learnt that his name was Ramkrishna Samanta, his house was in Arambagh, Malaypur, and at present he stayed at Bholanandagiri Asram in Barrackpur. He said his brother needed a kidney immediately for which he had given an advertisement in Bartaman.
Raju confided to the shopkeeper that he was going to sell his kidney to clear his debts. "Soon the same man approached Raju, and that's when I became suspicious," the shopkeeper told Frontline. He engaged the man in conversation this time too. "He was restless and wanted to leave. But I kept talking to him. The first time I had asked him whether his brother required blood immediately, and he had said it was not necessary. I asked him again this time, and he said his brother required lots of blood. I was convinced then that he was an illegal kidney trafficker and at once apprehended him and shut him up in the shop." In a short while there was a huge crowd outside the shop. "The man kept denying that he was a trafficker. It was only when I decided to call the police that he broke down and confessed and even started begging for forgiveness," the shopkeeper said.
Under police interrogation, Samanta said he was working for Laltu Roy, who paid him a monthly salary of Rs.2,500 and a commission for every donor he ensnared. "In the police van, when I accused him of trying to deceive me, Samanta told me that in the beginning he was also like me," Raju Roy told Frontline. Samanta was a bus conductor. Since 1998, he has been unemployed. In April this year, he met Laltu in response to an advertisement put out by the latter for a donor kidney. However, he failed the fitness test. Laltu then offered him an agent's job.
"This would have been Samanta's first success. The earlier prospective donors were not happy with just Rs.60,000, but Raju was," according to the sub-divisional police officer of Serampore, Shankha Shuvra Chakraborti.
Said Raju: "I was told that from Serampore I would be taken to Barrackpur, where I would be meeting the `boss', and there the financial transaction would be finalised. After that I would be taken for certain medical tests; once I cleared that, I would be taken to Chennai where the operation would take place."
After his arrest, Samanta was told to call up Laltu on his mobile at around 10 p.m., and tell him that he needed money immediately to give a consenting donor. Laltu promised to arrive with cash the next morning, but never showed up. A Bengali news channel had the previous night reported Samanta's arrest. So, by the time the police tracked down Laltu's address at Barrackpur, he had fled with his wife and child. The other members of his family, including his mother and brother, told the police that Laltu was in Siliguri, north Bengal. However, a police source who was a part of the team that raided Laltu's house told Frontline, "We do not think Laltu is in Siliguri. We believe that he is hiding near about. His family members said that probably to put us off track."
Laltu Roy was a constable in the Border Security Force (BSF) from 1988 to 1998. After quitting the force, he did not remain in any steady job. A number of voter identity cards were found at his residence during the raid. The police are not sure whether these belonged to prospective donors or whether they were used for some other operations.
Although the arrest of Ramkrishna Samanta was important in that it opened the eyes of the police and the public to the organised racket, until Laltu is caught it will not be possible to ascertain the extent of the operations. Although Samanta believed that there were others like him working for Laltu, he could not throw light on who they were. Soumen Mitra, Deputy Commissioner, Detective Department, said: "This kind of organised racket is not common in West Bengal. It might very well be the first of its kind in the State."