Elections 2021

In poll-bound Bengal, ponzi schemes continue to be Mamata’s Achilles heel

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on April 14, 2021

West Bengal's Chief Minister and the leader of Trinamool Congress (TMC) party Mamata Banerjee speaks during an public meeting during a campaign at Bhabeshmore village in Jalpaiguri district on the outskirts of Siliguri on April 14   -  AFP

Senior TMC leaders are routinely summoned for questioning by the Central investigating agencies

In its fight against financial frauds, the West Bengal government has secured one conviction and filed 39 cases against 31 Ponzi schemes, cash collection and multi-level marketing companies since enacting a legislation to protect the interest of investors.

The legislation –West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishment Act 2013 – came in the wake of the Saradha scam which broke in 2013.

Ponzi scams continue to be a recurring poll issue in Bengal with senior Trinamool Congress leaders being routinely summoned for questioning by the Central investigating agencies.

RTI query

Responding to an RTI query, filed by socio-legal researcher and activist, Biswanath Goswami, the State Directorate of Economic Offences said that charge-sheets have been filed for 14 out of the 39 cases, and 103 people have been arrested.

The trial has been completed against the Pincon Group and eight people have been granted life imprisonment, while 10 were acquitted. “The case was registered against the company at the Khejuri police station in the Purba Midnapore district,” the response said, a copy of which was reviewed by BusinessLine.

The case has attracted major names such as Rose Valley Group, I-Core Group, city-based jeweller Senco Abhushan Palace, among others. Cases have also been filed against three firms of former Rajya Sabha MP of the Trinamool Congress, KD Singh’s Alchemist Group. Most of these firms were involved in the alleged collection of money through schemes that promisedhigh returns, or through unauthorised bonds such as potato flexi-bonds, holiday-share schemes.

Political fallout

The Ponzi-scheme scams came to light after the collapse of the Saradha Group. Witnessing a public outcry, the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced legislation to protect depositor funds and ensure actions against the accused.

Along with the State agencies, the Central agencies were also roped in to probe such cases.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 2016 Assembly polls, the BJP raked up these issues. At least two of the then MPs were also jailed for a brief period and several leaders questioned in connection with these schemes. The BJP went all out alleging involvement of Trinamool leaders in such scams. However, it did not cut much ice with voters during these elections.

Leaders summoned

In the 2021 Assembly, the issue has come up sporadically with the Chief Minister levelling allegations against two BJP MPs and the party’s candidates on their involvement in the Saradha scam, at a public rally in Hooghly. The BJP hit back saying, that the Chief Minister was “free to prove her claims”.

Earlier in March, the CBI summoned two other leaders of the Trinamool Congress, which included a Rajya Sabha MP – now contesting in the polls – and a cabinet colleague of Mamata Banerjee, for questioning. The Trinamool alleged that it was a political conspiracy by the BJP to malign its leadership ahead of the elections.

Recently, the ED had also summoned two Trinamool leaders – who will also be contesting the Assembly polls – for questioning in connection with the Saradha scam. In a related development, the ED attached properties of TMC spokesperson and ex-Rajya Sabha MP, Kunal Ghosh and MP Shatabdi Roy.

Published on April 14, 2021

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