The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jute or kits, Sarda hands full
- Family not new to controversy, but new business proves tricky

Calcutta, Oct. 31: Monozyme India’s faulty kits may have landed the Sardas in a mess, but controversies have always followed the brothers: Govind, Ghanshyam and Jagdish.

The family’s rise over the past two decades is the stuff of Bollywood blockbusters.

Shivlala Sarda migrated to Calcutta from Sujangarh, Rajasthan, in the heyday of the jute industry in the ’60s.

Four decades later, the jute broker’s sons collectively own an empire officially valued at Rs 1,000 crore, with interests ranging from jute and infotech to liquor and medical equipment.

The Sardas had bought their first jute mill, Agarpara Jute Mill, from the Goenkas in the ’70s. Today, they control six in Bengal and one each in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.

“But on paper the Sarda brothers are not the main promoters,” said an industry source.

So, when there’s a crackdown for provident fund dues or staff insurance default — so common in the industry — the brothers escape the heat.

“The official owner of Baranagar Jute Factory is an employee, Chetan Choudhary. He has been dragged into provident fund-related cases but nothing ever happened to the Sardas,” the source said.

It’s a comparatively new business — the Sardas floated the medical equipment company in 1991 — that has got them in trouble.

Govind and Ghanshyam are behind bars, while the youngest, Jagdish, and Govind’s sons Aditya and Amit are in hiding.

“The group has connections in various political parties, but this time Govindbabu is in a jam,” a source said.

Some suggest he’s paying for swinging five crucial votes in favour of Jagmohan Dalmiya in the Cricket Association of Bengal elections, which police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee ended up losing. Few will buy the allegation in the context of the huge scam of supplying expired blood-test kits to the state government.

The Sardas have faced many charges in the past, including illegal arms possession, coercion of employees and business associates, market manipulation and sales tax default. Several cases are pending with government agencies.

Some argue that a recent split in the family has weakened the group. Govind’s arrest came just a week after the brothers carved out their separate businesses last month.

Govind’s defence is that he is neither a Monozyme director nor a shareholder. His elder son Aditya is the managing director and has a 9.39 per cent stake.

Govind also claims that the kits had not passed their use-by dates and were meant for testing only Hepatitis B and C, and not HIV. But city police’s detective chief Gyanwant Singh said, “The expired kits supplied by Sarda’s company were used to test HIV contamination.”

As the police turn the heat on Monozyme, other Sarda companies are executing government contracts.

Vision Comptech, an IT firm promoted by Ghanshyam, is implementing a multi-crore smart-card project for the transport department. The company is set to bag the contract for the photo ration card project.

“Sarda companies have also supplied huge quantities of jute bags to agencies under the Union food ministry,” a source said.

Kits supplied by the BSE-listed Monozyme, which did business worth Rs 9.6 crore last year, are under the scanner in other states, too. With the family’s male members off the scene, many wonder if the other businesses might catch the infection.

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