There can be no denying the need for a legal framework to ensure that the likes of Saradha do not take the entire financial system for a ride. But that said, there will always be greedy investors, willing to be taken in by the tall promises of unscrupulous operators. The latter’s task is made easier by loopholes in the law.

Hence, Ponzi operators used the legal loopholes governing investments in time shares, gold or bullion deposits, and, to an extent, even commodity trading. They were able to outwit the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) by running unauthorised collective investment schemes. To sidestep SEBI, they used the complex judicial procedures to their benefit, getting stay orders whenever it suited them.

These loopholes certainly need to be plugged. But would that rule out future scams? Now, for some sobering truths. First, there is no escaping the fact that the regulatory mechanism is up against a large cash economy. A money trail, therefore, becomes hard to establish. Ponzi scheme operators, encouraging transactions in cash, use this fact to their advantage.

Second, the poor penetration of the authorised financial services sector and low bankability of large sections of people open the doors to unscrupulous operators.

But the bigger concern lies somewhere else: Lack of will to implement existing provisions in the law. A close scrutiny of the Saradha Group fiasco would suggest that the culprits could have been brought to book even within the existing framework. The group, operating through 160 companies, became a household name in West Bengal in just a couple of years.

Saradha’s rise was, in fact, more marked since 2010, when, ironically, both the economic offences wing of the then Left Front government in West Bengal and the capital market regulator expressed misgivings about its source of funds. In the next two years, Saradha pumped money into the media, a high cost sector that takes a long time to generate returns.

It splurged money on advertisements and in sponsoring events, including those organised by the West Bengal Government. It even acquired a loss-making two-wheeler factory with a Rs 180-crore bank loan. The automobile factory has not produced a single two-wheeler. The loan amount turned bad as early as in 2011.

In the two years since 2010, its disclosures with regulatory authorities did not match the high spends. There were discrepancies in the income-tax filings too.

Isn’t all this enough for Saradha to be booked under the existing laws? This only goes to show that the best laws can fall by the wayside in the absence of political will to implement them. That political personages lend legitimacy to dubious activities only makes implementation of the law that much more difficult.

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