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Crores sink in Bokaro scam
- Like Big Fish Saradha, ‘cheat fund’ Sarada gulps savings

Ranchi, June 20: At least 339 residents of Bokaro have lost their lifelong savings as two Bengal-based non-banking firms have allegedly duped around Rs 30 crore of their money.

Hundreds of victims, including retired Bokaro Steel Limited employees, bureaucrats and professionals, put out applications addressed to Bokaro DC and SP, demanding urgent action against the Siliguri headquartered companies, Sarada Pleasure and Adventure Ltd and Sarada Mutual Benefit (Nidhi) Ltd, so that they can get their money back.

The application, submitted to the Bokaro district collectorate four days ago, added that as most investors were retired government servants, the district administration should now ensure the livelihood of “penniless victims”.

The Telegraph has a copy of the letter.

Much smaller in scope, the fraud investor scheme is uncannily similar in terms of human tragedy to the conservatively estimated Rs 10,000-crore Saradha Group chit fund scam that duped lakhs of depositors in Bengal and other eastern states.

However, no link between Saradha and Sarada has been found so far.

Sarada Pleasure and Adventure Ltd and Sarada Mutual Benefit (Nidhi) Ltd started operations in 2010 and 2012, operating out of offices at Sector IV, City Centre, and alluring investors with 13.5 per cent annual interest, payable monthly.

As the prospect appeared lucrative, people invested bulk sums ranging between Rs 50,000 and Rs 17 lakh.

Investor confidence was first shaken early last year when monthly payments became irregular. Acting on a complaint, Bokaro district administration raided the company offices in September 2013 and took an undertaking from the company to be regular in payments.

But the mayhem became worse, investors alleged. The company paid small sums in cash to some investors and handed some others cheques that bounced.

In November 2013, when some Bokaro investors went to Siliguri and launched a weeklong agitation demanding Sarada sell its assets such as hotels, petrol pumps, tea gardens and so on to raise money, they got Rs 9 lakh from the company.

Since the past eight months, the company did not pay a penny to anyone and its offices stayed closed.

Company’s managing director Rakesh Srivastaba and vice-president Amarkant Mishra, originally from Gopalganj and Madhubani districts of Bihar, as well as Bokaro operational head Santosh Murti are incommunicado.

“This is financial terrorism,” said Shambhu Kumar Singh, a retired deputy general manager of Bokaro Steel Plant, who who invested Rs 16.9 lakh in Sarada. “All my savings are gone. I was fooled by the company’s assurances and regular payments for the first two years, ” said the Sector I resident.

R.K. Prasad, a Sector IV resident, said: “We were taken for a ride. The high rate of interest attracted us.”

“Interest ki baat chhodiye mool dhan bhi gaya (Forget interest, I have lost my principal),” said Sharda Prasad Dubey, another elderly victim, who had invested Rs 5 lakh.

Company employee Raushan Jha, admitting to facing “tremendous pressure from investors”, added: “Some payments were indeed made but they were too little. Big bosses don’t pick up phones. This company is closed now.”

Bokaro DC Uma Shankar Singh said he hadn’t seen the fresh application of aggrieved investors, but remembered the Sarada case well.

“All these (Sarada and similar non-banking financial companies) seem to be involved in fraudulent dealings. Last year, we asked officials of this company (Sarada) to give an undertaking to the administration that investors would be refunded without delay and the company would stop raising money from public. I will now make fresh inquiries,” he said.

K.K. Sinha of the department of institutional finance, the nodal agency that keeps tabs on non-banking and chit fund companies in the state, said they periodically send circulars to districts for a list of financial institutions to know if these are approved by the RBI and SEBI.

“If a fraud is detected, the district administration has the power to initiate legal action. Also, I request potential investors to carefully research the background and credentials of private companies they want to invest in,” Sinha said.