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Jharkhand cash dupe link to Siliguri

Ranchi, June 26: Over 300 residents of Bokaro have said they lost their life savings to the tune of Rs 30 crore after investing in two Siliguri-based fraud fund-mobilising companies.

Among the 339 victims are retired Bokaro Steel Limited employees, bureaucrats and professionals who have sent applications addressed to the Bokaro district collectorate and the superintendent of police, demanding action against the companies — Sarada Pleasure and Adventure Ltd and Sarada Mutual Benefit (Nidhi) Ltd.

The application, submitted to the Bokaro district collectorate on June 16, said as most investors were retired government servants, the district administration should ensure the livelihood of the “penniless victims”.

The Telegraph has a copy of the letter.

Nothing has been found so far to link the companies to Sudipta Sen’s Saradha Group in Bengal.

Police in Siliguri have said they have not come across the names of the two companies during their investigation into fraud fund-mobilising entities in the town. The Bokaro residents, who recently held a protest in Siliguri, have not yet lodged any police complaint in the north Bengal town against the two companies.

A few residents of Bankura in Bengal have also claimed that the Siliguri-based companies had duped them. One of the victims from Bankura, Roop Kumar Singh, said the letterhead of the companies mentioned Sarada Hotel on Siliguri’s Hill Cart Road as the headquarters.

Although much smaller in terms of operation, the fraud investor scheme is similar in terms of human tragedy to the conservatively estimated Rs 10,000-crore Saradha scam that duped lakhs of depositors in Bengal and several other eastern states.

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.

Investors alleged that after that 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.

For the last eight months, the company has not paid a penny to anyone and its offices stayed closed.

The company’s managing director Rakesh Srivastava 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 had invested Rs 16.9 lakh. “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 that he was 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 district collector 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 the public. I will now make fresh inquiries,” he said.

Senior officers of Siliguri Metropolitan Police today said they had no information about Sarada Pleasure and Adventure Ltd and Sarada Mutual Benefit (Nidhi) Ltd.

“We have been investigating the scams by fund-mobilising companies on the basis of complaints filed with us. However, no report or complaint has come to us on these two companies till now,” O.G. Pal, the deputy commissioner, said in Siliguri this evening.

An intelligence source said in Siliguri that there was “a chance that to dupe the investors, they mentioned Siliguri as the location of their head office but did not operate from here”.