Saradha Group chief Sudipta Sen
Calcutta, Aug. 27: The Mamata Banerjee government seems to have found a way out to disburse cash from the Rs 500-crore fund meant to help the poorest of poor depositors affected by the Saradha Group scandal.
A proposal is being considered to enact legislation under Article 282 of the Constitution to dole out the benefit the chief minister had promised on April 24. The article allows the Union or a state to make grants for any public purpose.
Senior officials of the departments of finance, home and law feel that legislation based on the article will make the provision foolproof against legal challenges.
Earlier, the state government’s efforts to create the fund had hit a roadblock as there was no provision in the budgetary rules, government officials said.
The fresh proposal is set to be placed before the chief minister in a day or two for the final decision.
“If the chief minister agrees, legislation can be prepared so that the government can allot the Rs 500 crore, as announced by the chief minister, at the earliest. If the Assembly is not in session, an ordinance can be promulgated,” a senior official said.
Another official told The Telegraph: “The state has a plan to allot Rs 500 crore to the Justice Shyamal Sen Commission to distribute the money.”
The commission was set up after the Saradha collapse to look into the scale of the crisis and recommend ways to compensate the poor who had lost money.
Although the constitutional provision may spare the government legal hassles, the proposed Rs 500-crore kitty — around Rs 150 crore would come from higher tax on tobacco products, the chief minister had said — may not be enough.
The Telegraph had reported on August 19 that a total of 17.39 lakh applications were submitted to the commission and 83 per cent of the applicants — around 14.43 lakh — had deposited Rs 10,000 or less. Back-of-the-envelope calculations reveal that the state will require a minimum of Rs 720 crore if the average deposit was Rs 5,000.
The payout requirement will go up to Rs 1,010 crore if the average deposit was Rs 7,000.
“The chief minister is keen to return the money and she is aware that the Rs 500-crore kitty may not be enough,” said an official.
According to him, the state government is set to issue a fresh notification delegating the power of attaching properties of the Saradha Group and use the fund to repay the poor investors.
“The commission will decide who will be repaid and how the repayment process will be undertaken. The commission will have the authority to auction the property of the Saradha Group too,” an official said.
Till now, the special investigation team has found over 450 bighas linked to Saradha in Bengal and other states, besides over 500 bank accounts and nearly 100 vehicles.
The government sources, however, were not sure of the time required to attach the properties and realise value from them.
“It is going to be a time-consuming process…. But as the chief minister is keen to start distributing the money, we are trying to bring a legislation to allot Rs 500 crore from the government’s coffers to the commission so that at least some people start getting the benefit,” said an official.