May 5: The District Consumer Redressal Forum, Darjeeling, has directed Grihalaxmi Yojna Sahakari Samity, run by Grihalaxmi Endeavours Company Ltd, to return all the money they had collected from over 1,000 depositors.
After a series of analogous hearings for 20 separate cases 'filed by over 200 agents of the company ' Judge R.K. Mukherjee on April 28 directed Abhinash Thapa, Sanjay Thakuri and Anjana Thakuri, the three directors, to pay back Rs 3,13,90,086 (over Rs 3 crore) within 45 days to the agents for refund to the depositors.
'The company had raised about Rs 5 crore as small savings from several depositors from across the hills,' said Ganesh Sharma, the lawyer who fought the case for the agents. 'People, mostly from the lower-income group, had put their money in the scheme lured by high rates of interests (13 per cent per annum).'
'Initially, the company, which has been in the business since 1994 (vide registration no. 11/Dj/1998 dated 23.02. 1999), paid the investors small sums of money that had matured, only to close down later, leaving the depositors and agents in the lurch. One of the directors is also absconding.'
As Bibhas Das, who had invested Rs 86,000 with the company in 2002, put it: 'For the past one-and-a-half years, (the directors) had been turning me away on various pretexts.'
Faced with the wrath of the depositors, agents Urmila Subba, Sabita Das, Jyoti Bag Das and Bandana Nirola filed a case in December last year. 'Encouraged by their initiative, several other agents also filed cases against the company,' Sharma said.
Such was the public frenzy regarding the case that even Grihalaxmi's lawyers had to back off. 'I withdrew from the case after posters against me and my juniors appeared in town,' said Durga Kharel, the lawyer appointed by Grihalaxmi.
'Given that the district consumer redressal forum cannot take up cases of value exceeding Rs 20 lakh, the 250 agents filed 25 separate cases, of which 20 were disposed of on April 28. The remaining will be disposed of after a hearing on May 19,' Sharma added.