Thursday, April 25, 2013

TMC Govt in dock, chit-fund scam burns Bengal

The chit fund powder keg finally exploded in Bengal with its flames on Saturday reaching the Trinamool Congress Bhavan even as thousands of angry agents and depositors took to streets and gheraoed the ruling party headquarters demanding their money back.

People mostly from lower classes who were sucked into the vortex of reportedly Rs 17000-20,000 crore scam - biggest perhaps in the history of the State - engaged in street fights somewhere with the police and somewhere with Trinamool activists and ransacked the offices of Shardha group, the biggest of the micro-finance groups that downed its shutters over the past few weeks after  defaulting on the  payment of returns.

A day after protesting in front of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s residence, the agitators whose numbers swelled by thousands on Saturday jammed the Trinamool Bhavan demanding an explanation from the party high-ups for its backing the group which reportedly had many Ministers and MPs of the ruling party as its promoters or as brand ambassadors.

Sudipto Sen the CMD Shardha group which ran the Bengal Post newspaper and had taken over many other news channels and newspapers earlier shut his media business early this month.

Allegations flew thick and fast throughout the day from all quarters implicating the Government and Trinamool big fishes. In the melee, a faint voice of defence was heard from former Railway Minister Mukul Roy who quoted the Chief Minister as saying that “Government was taking strong action and no person found guilty would be spared.”

He claimed that such groups had been functioning in Bengal for the past several years shifting the blame on “previous Left Front Government and the Congress Government in Delhi.”

State Transport Minister Madan Mitra called the matter “unfortunate” but insisted “the Government never pursued the people to invest in these shady funds.” When reminded that he was the president of one of the workers’ groups of the chit-fund agencies he said the “Government will take all actions to bring the guilty to book. No one would be spared.”

Notwithstanding prime accused Sudipto Sen who continued to claim that he had sufficiently greased the palms of many topnotch people both in Kolkata and Delhi and threatened to reveal their name was still not arrested.

Offices of the group were ransacked in Siliguri, Behrampore, Baruipore, Purulia and many other places police sources said.

Incidentally the chit-fund groups, which promised astronomical amounts for the depositors’ money, sucked out thousands of crores of rupees from the small-saving market that could otherwise have gone to State cooperative banks.

In fact, the average savings in the Government cooperative small savings in Bengal was around Rs 15,000 crore till 2011 but the amount dipped to barely Rs 200 crore in the past two years or so, Finance Ministry sources said, adding this dip had affected the Government’s loan taking capability also.

Opposition Congress, Left and the BJP launched a scathing attack on the Trinamool Government and the Chief Minister for promoting the chit-fund owners.

“There is a scam of Rs 20,000 crore presided over by this Government,” PCC president Pradip Bhattacharjee said alleging “the scam has not only robbed the State exchequer but also ruined the lakhs of lower class people.” He demanded a CBI probe into the scam apart from proper compensation for the victims.

While Mukul Roy dismissed the charges as “false, concocted and baseless,” his party colleague and MP Somen Mitra said “I alerted the Government against the mushrooming of these shady funds but nothing was done. Now we are reaping the consequence.”

CPI(M) central committee member Md Salim said “Trinamool has pushed Bengal into a verge of complete financial and administrative collapse” claiming the Chief Chief Minister herself was “indebted to the chit-fund wallahs.”

He said, “She inaugurated the newspapers of the Shardha group and made places for them in the Government libraries throwing out the traditional dailies” alleging how “the Shardha groups purchased her paintings for highest price.”

BJP State president Rahul Sinha said, “The scam was the result of allowing the chit-funds to operate for years with impunity.”

Curiously Government sources said a law enacted by the then Left Government in 2009 was still lying in Delhi for the Presidential assent. “Because the Trinamool was minting money through the chit-funds it did not pursue with the enactment of the draft Bill even when it was in power till last year,” Salim said.
Sunday, 21 April 2013 | Saugar Sengupta | Kolkata | in Sunday Pioneer

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