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Saradha bill passed 2nd time

Calcutta, Dec. 12: The Assembly today passed for the second time a bill to rein in collective investment schemes, such as those the Saradha Group used to run, incorporating some suggestions made by Delhi but prompting questions if it would stand central scrutiny.

The state government had withdrawn an earlier version of the bill, which was passed days after the Saradha default crisis erupted, following changes suggested by the Union home ministry.

Senior government officials and the CPM expressed doubts if the West Bengal Protection of Interests of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013, would get presidential assent this time.

The officials said the earlier version had not been vetted by the Union law ministry as the home ministry had sent it back to the state.

The bill passed today mentions that changes suggested by the financial services, revenue and economic affairs departments in Delhi have been incorporated.

“The bill is still to pass the scrutiny of the Union law ministry, which will finally vet it before sending it to the President. One cannot rule out further suggestions from the law ministry,” a senior official said.

Opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra of the CPM echoed the official.

“We are afraid the bill passed today will be sent back again because it has provisions for retrospective effect. Criminal charges the bill proposes to slap on people connected with sham companies cannot have retrospective effect,” he said.

Mishra had moved an amendment to remove the retrospective clause from the earlier version of the bill but it was not accepted by state finance minister Amit Mitra.

Mitra today said in the Assembly that the state government believed the Centre had no further suggestions as the Union home ministry had proposed that the bill be withdrawn and resent.

“The home ministry is the co-ordinating ministry and when it proposed the withdrawal and resubmission of the earlier bill, it meant it had no further suggestions,” Mitra said. He admitted that the delay in securing presidential assent had left the government in an awkward situation.

Mitra said he had written to Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, mentioning that the Bengal government was expecting the Centre to forward the fresh version of the bill to the President.

“We cannot be going to the Assembly with new provisions time and again…. We hope the bill is full and final and it will protect the interests of common depositors. Much time has been lost,” he said.

According to senior state government officials, the new version of the bill has incorporated provisions such as seizure of properties of those who take loans from sham deposit-mobilising companies and don’t share information on such firms with Sebi or the Reserve Bank of India.

But some central suggestions such as compounding of offences, rejection of anticipatory bail and delegation of more powers to designated courts have not been incorporated, an official said.

Mitra, however, said the government had included suggestions that had been finalised during correspondence between the Centre and the state. “There were several suggestions. We have made only those changes that were finalised during the discussions.”