Murder of Sreeleathers owner shows hold of anti-socials: official

By Soudhriti Bhabani, IANS

Kolkata : The killing of Sreeleathers shoe company co-owner Ashis Dey by extortionists in Jamshedpur is a reflection of the “mounting pressure” of anti-social groups on the business community, a senior company official said here Saturday.

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“It’s unfortunate that a businessman is shot dead by miscreants, just because he had declined to pay the extortion amount. This clearly shows the mounting pressure of anti-social groups on the business community in India,” Sreeleathers Senior General Manager Hirak Suvra Chatterjee told IANS.

The killing of Dey — who was instrumental in making the Kolkata-based company one of the prominent shoe companies in the country — would affect the company’s global expansion plans, said Chatterjee.

Dey was gunned down by motorcycle-borne assailants near his home at Saket Bazaar in Jamshedpur in Jharkhand Friday morning.

He had apparently refused to pay the Rs.30 million demanded by the extortionists, who pretended to be members if the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

“Ashis Dey used to receive threat calls and letters from various extremist groups like the Maoists and even the ULFA,” said Chatterjee.

“Tracking the phone numbers we realised that the extortion calls were coming from the northeastern states. A few months ago, a group from the northeast had also sent a train ticket to Dey asking him to reach their place with money,” Chatterjee said.

“We think there is an involvement of the local mafia behind Dey’s murder. Even some extremist groups could be involved,” he said.

Jharkhand police had been informed about the threat calls and letters, he said.

He said the threat of extortionists would only rise in the future and businessmen would have to bow before the pressure.

The Rs.1 billion footwear and accessories firm had scripted a fairytale success story with its low-priced shoes for the common man and took on global giants like Bata — previously firmly entrenched in Indian turf.

“The company had a major expansion plan and was all set to get a strong toehold in the East European market foraying through a 50:50 trading joint venture with a local footwear distributor, Costa Ginnes, in Athens, Greece.

“The death is definitely a jolt to the first such step of Sreeleathers in strengthening its footprint in the global market,” said Chatterjee.

“This plan apart, the company has been exporting its footwear and accessories to Germany, Greece, Austria, Middle East, Japan, China, Britain, United States, Singapore and Bangladesh.

“Our future plans would definitely suffer due to the death of one of the partners,” Chatterjee said.

Dey lived in Jamshedpur but his family and company are based in Kolkata.

Chatterjee said though the export-oriented business of Sreeleathers contributes to less than 10 percent of the company’s total business, it had plans to increase the total volume of exports in a big way. The company also had plans to enter the leather garments segment.

Sreeleathers was founded in 1952 by Suresh Chandra Dey, who was known for his role in the freedom struggle and his close association with revolutionary Surya Sen. He opened his first outlet at Sakchi in Jamshedpur.

Over the years, the shoe trading business of the company flourished with his three sons – Shekhar, Satyabrato and Ashis Dey – joining in.

Since the 1990s, Sreeleathers shoe shops became the favourite haunts of middle-class and lower middle-class people in West Bengal. Unending queues to get a Sreeleathers shoe before the festive season was a common sight in metros like Kolkata.

Presently, Sreeleathers has 25 dealers’ outlets across the country, five company-owned stores, including two in Kolkata and Delhi, and 30 franchisee outlets in West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Assam and Tripura.