In January the cheques issued by Saradha Realty began to bounce and it was evident that the Kolkata-based Saradha Group of Companies was headed for a disaster. And by the time it was April, the disaster was complete, hurting thousands of small investors from the villages and small towns of West Bengal. The so-called chit fund scam had hurt the poor of the state most badly.
With the expectation of getting the promised huge returns the investors – mostly common men and women from Bahujan families – invested money even by mortgaging their homes, land, business; some invested all of their meagre life savings. But when the company defaulted it left many a family shattered. Fifty-year-old Urmila Pramanik, a Dalit resident of Baruipur, committed suicide by setting herself on fire after she lost her all savings, which she had earned by washing dishes at others people’s houses and invested in Saradha group. She deposited all her savings of Rs 30,000 in the hope of getting her capital doubled in a short period.
Yadhav Majhi’s neighbours, who live in thatched-roof houses like his at Durgapur, are yet to come out of the shock that the 33-year-old carpenter, who had migrated from Bankura, hanged himself from the ceiling. Majhi, a Dalit, had become an agent of Saradha group for earning lucrative commission. He lived alone in Mayabazar area of Durgapur and after the lock down of the company, neighbours found him living in utter despair. Hundreds of depositors gheraoed him, abused him and demanded their money back and, in a fit of mental agony, he chose to end his life.
But it is not the chit fund company alone that devastated the lives of people in the state and beyond. Ganesh Sarkar, a 39-year-old daily-wage earner, used to deposit Rs 1,000 per month in order to get back rupees 17,500 at the end of 15 months of his deposited maturity. According to him, every month he deposited money they gave him some “certificates” in English. It was later revealed that the unlettered Ganesh was cheated by Saradha by offering him certificates of the booking of holiday packages at Saradha resort after 15 months! Sudipto Sen not only cheated people but he has played with the innocence of the weak and the vulnerable. Because of him thousands of people have become completely helpless, homeless beggars.
However, in the highly charged political scene in West Bengal, allegations and counter-allegations are aplenty. When the scandal hit the headlines, Mamata Bannerjee’s first reaction was, “What has happened, has happened. We are trying to enforce the law now.” Commenting on the scam, the former finance minister during the Left Front rule, Ashim Dasgupta said, “Trinamool Congress (TMC) MPs’ are involved with the chit fund company as it flourished during TMC rule.” It may be noted that Kunal Ghosh, the TMC MP was also the chief editor of Channel10, owned by the Saradha Group. In defense of it Mamata Bannerjee concentrated more on arresting the culprit with the help of the CID and state police force, she also involved the CBI for the proper investigation of the case. Mamata also said that the Saradha Group was incorporated in 2006 during Left Front rule in Bengal. She also said that chit fund-like schemes are completely under the purview of the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) and SEBI (Security Exchange Board of India).
Sudipta Sen, Chairman and Managing Director, Saradha Group; Debjani Mukherjee, receptionist-turned-director; and Arvind Singh Chouhan, Sen’s aide, are charged under sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code by the Bidhannagar Police Commissioner. The accused have been remanded to judicial custody. The interrogation of the accused is still going on. All the depositors and agents want is justice by punishing the mastermind of this ponzi scam which has all but ruined them. People want their hard-earned money back. The chief minister has assured that she would help poor people in getting back their money but how it can and will be done remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, rejecting Sudipta Sen’s bail plea, a local court in West Bengal on 18 May remanded Sen and his close aide Arvind Chauhan to judicial custody till 31 May.
Published in the June 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine