Calcutta, Oct. 6: Former finance minister Asim Dasgupta today questioned the government’s move to use taxpayers’ money to compensate the duped investors of the Saradha Group.
In a hurriedly called news conference, the longest serving finance minister of the state referred to three documents — the bill the Mamata Banerjee government had brought to protect the depositors, the notification issued while setting up an inquiry commission and a government memo — to highlight the procedural lapses in compensating the duped investors.
“The government is spending money from the state exchequer to compensate a select set of people who lost money in the Saradha scam. They are claiming they are following government rules. But I want to know which rule are they talking about?” Dasgupta asked.
As the West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013, introduced this April, has been withdrawn, its provisions cannot be used to offer compensation, he said.
The senior CPM leader added that the bill clearly mentioned that it was aimed at tackling firms that do not come under the purview of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi).
“Saradha, however, was under the purview of Sebi, which had given instruction to the company on April 23 to sell its assets and refund the money to depositors from the proceeds. Then, what’s the point in spending taxpayers’ money?” he asked.
According to the former finance minister, the government should compensate not only the duped investors of the Saradha Group but also those who lost money in other illegal deposit-mobilising firms.
Referring to the government notification that appointed Justice Shyamal Sen as the head of the inquiry commission, Dasgupta said it was only empowered to “recommend means” to compensate the duped depositors from the assets of the companies.
“But the government is refunding the money through the commission…. Can they do it?” he asked.
With Mamata Banerjee setting a Puja deadline to compensate one lakh depositors, the government has already created a new head and has disbursed Rs 50 crore to the Saradha depositors.
The finance department allotted the amount under the West Bengal Scheme for Affected Persons of Saradha Scam—2013. The home department transferred the money to the commission for disbursal.
“Has the new head been approved by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office? I want to know whether the rules allow the creation of such a head?” Dasgupta asked.
Although Dasgupta refused to answer questions on why the Opposition was taking the news conference route instead of building a wider political movement on the Saradha issue, sources said today’s conference was a precursor to a stronger protest after the Pujas.
The CPM leadership’s failure to capitalise on the Saradha scam and similar defaults by other illegal deposit-mobilising companies has been discussed extensively in the party during its state committee meeting last month.
Realising the Left party’s slide in its support base cannot be arrested without a full-fledged movement at the grassroots, the CPM leaders are trying to launch a fresh movement against the state government by holding Trinamul responsible for the mushrooming of illegal deposit-mobilising companies, several of which have defaulted.
The political motive behind today’s news conference was clear as Dasgupta renewed the CPM’s demand for a CBI probe into the Saradha scam under the monitoring of the Supreme Court.
“The attempt to highlight the procedural lapses was done with the objective of engaging the government in a legal battle,” a source said.
The former finance minister also focused on how the 28-month-old government’s fiscal profligacy was pushing up the state’s indebtedness, from Rs 1.92 lakh crore in May 2011 to Rs 2.47 lakh crore by the end of this fiscal.