New Delhi: As the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) cracks its whip on the Narada sting operation case of 2016, questions are being raised about the silence over the Saradha chit fund scam that took away the savings of thousands of innocent people from several eastern states. People who have lost their entire life’s savings have been repeatedly raising questions on why the CBI is not showing much interest in the case which has been hanging in courts for years now. “It is good to see that the CBI is taking action against the corrupt leaders who were seen taking money in lieu of work in the Narada sting operation case, but what about the bigger scam which is the Saradha scam where people like us have lost our entire life’s savings. Many of us had kept that money for our daughter’s marriage, some for their education. But since 2013, we have been running from pillar to post for justice, but each day, it feels like the prospect of justice is getting bleaker,” Suman Das, a resident of Bengal and an investor with Saradha group said.
Like Suman Das, there are thousands of people who had lost their money in this “mega” scam that had broken in 2013 and after a year of it being investigated by the Kolkata police with no headway in the case, the case was transferred to the CBI in May 2014, but since then, seven years have passed but the case has not yet seen the light of day in the court. Neither is there any trace of the huge money involved—estimated to be around Rs 20,000 crore belonging to more than 25 lakh people of Bengal, Assam and Odisha, nor has CBI been able to make any significant progress in unravelling conspiracy involved, as it still grapples for answers.
CBI officials say that the conclusion to this case has been repeatedly delayed due to the “political unwillingness” of the governments.
The CBI had filed 46 FIRs in the case within days of the case being transferred to the premier investigating agency on the grounds of “cheating”, “criminal breach of trust” and “conspiracy”. The officers of the agency also wanted to complete the investigation in this case by 2016 and with this deadline in mind, the CBI had filed multiple charge-sheet in this case with the contents of the final charge-sheet being readied by the agency which named several influential politicians and officials of Bengal. But since then, the case lost its steam and was sent to cold storage.
The first charge-sheet in the case was filed by the CBI in October 2014, after which it filed a series of charge-sheets in November 2014, April 2015, August 2015, December 2015, and the final charge-sheet which was filed in April 2016 had named these several “prominent” and “influential” people of Bengal. Some of these people who were arrested or questioned by the CBI include present TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh, TMC MP Sudip Banerjee, former TMC MP and MLA late Tapas Pal, then TMC MP and now BJP MLA Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari are among some of the names that were picked by the CBI with regards to the Saradha chit fund scam.
The CBI had received the case in May 2014 after the SC’s order to investigate this multi-crore scam by Saradha group of companies after a PIL was filed in the apex court raising doubts over the investigation that was being carried out by state police. The CBI had also for long being wanting a custodial enquiry for the then Commissioner of Police of the Bidhannagar Commissionerate Rajiv Kumar who has allegedly “supressed” information about the case.
The SC has also raised doubts on the role of regulatory authorities like SEBI, Registrar of Companies and the RBI, within whose respective jurisdictions and areas of operation, the scam not only took birth, but flourished unhindered. The initial probe done by the WB police had named some of the officials belonging to these organizations, while giving reasons as to why their role needed to be investigated. It had found that regular payments as bribe were paid through middleman to some of those who were supposed to keep an eye on ponzi companies.
A forensic audit report prepared by the SEBI, which was also placed in court, stated that investors in this chit fund were promised astronomically high returns by way of interest rate that ranged from 10% to 18%. As many as 221,000 agents were working for Saradha group, who were paid an unreasonably high brokerage of 30% which became the driving force for these agents to collect as much as possible from gullible investors. The report had further stated that the company never had any intention of doing any legitimate business activity and the money collected from the public was spread over 160 companies. These companies had opened more than 550 bank accounts for round tripping transactions that were spread over several states, including West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Assam. It was one of eastern India’s biggest deposit-taking firms, which went bust in April 2013.