It took the death of a ‘youth-next-door’ to blow the lid off a Rs 3-crore scam that has hit several families in Behala where it hurts — their savings of the present, their security for the future. And their cry of despair has reached the state’s seat of governance.
The protagonist of the multi-crore scam — spun around the nondescript Behala sub-post office — was “postal insurance agent” Ashis Datta. The 25-year-old would approach households in the area as their friendly, neighbourhood intelligent-investment agent. He would win their trust by keeping it simple — advising families to keep their savings safe in the post office through him and promising a hassle-free procedure at nominal cost. The ‘savings scheme’ was swimming along till Datta died, apparently after a cardiac arrest, on October 7, while on a vacation at Gomukh. He left behind some 35 families who had trusted him with around Rs 3 crore of their savings, over the past five years.
Datta’s clients — including retired IAS official Nisith Ganguly — caught the scent of a scam only after they received news of his death and approached the Behala sub-post office to find out how to handle their investments from then on. To their horror, they learnt that Datta had not put their money into the post office at all.
“I never suspected anything,” said Ganguly on Sunday. He had given Datta around Rs 3 lakh. “I never thought he was a conman, despite having observed him from close quarters.”
Most of the victims are residents of middle-class localities like Arcadia, Jadu Colony, Behala Chowrasta, Mitra Colony, Manmohan Park and Banamali Ghosh Lane. Shankar Kar of Ishwar Mitra Lane, who had “invested” Rs 3 lakh, said: “This would have just continued had we not got in touch with the Behala sub-post office authorities after Datta’s death to know what would happen to our savings schemes that he used to handle.”
Members of Datta’s family, still in shock over the news of his untimely death, are now having to fend off those he had been duping for years. “We are still in a daze,” said elder brother Tarun Datta, at their Banamali Ghosh Lane residence, in Behala. “We don’t know anything about what he (Ashis) used to do… We are still trying to come to terms with the news of his death.”
The victims of the ‘savings’ scam have approached finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who will be meeting some of them at his Writers’ Buildings office on Monday.
Officials from the office of the senior superintendent of posts (South Calcutta division) will be sent to the Behala sub-post office on Monday to verify facts with both the postal employees and Datta’s dupe victims.