Happy birthday, SIT A year of largely living up to its ‘name’

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  • Published 21.04.14
Sudipta Sen

Calcutta, April 20: This Tuesday, the Saradha special investigation team (SIT) set up by the Bengal government will celebrate its first birthday. On April 22, 2013, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had announced that the SIT headed by the director-general of police would probe the deposit default.

*Unofficial estimate based on conversations with multiple
SIT sources. The bigger candle has had to be broken as even
a full page of this edition is not long enough to depict to scale the difference between the number of investors who have been defrauded and the cases being pursued

In this anniversary week, the SIT should ideally cut a cake with 550 candles — one for every case it has been probing in relation to the scandal.

But the right to the first nibble is held by another birthday boy — Sudipta Sen, the Saradha boss who completes a year in custody the very next day on April 23.

Sudipta Sen’s claim to the first bite is indisputable because he had almost single-handedly kept the SIT in employment the whole year. The only other person of note the SIT has proceeded against in the intervening months is Kunal Ghosh, the Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP — that too after he started speaking out against the Trinamul leadership.

The figure “550-odd” — the number of Saradha cases cited by a SIT officer to prove how busy the team has been — sounds impressive at first glance but looks deflated when viewed in perspective.

During the same period, the Justice Shyamal Sen commission has distributed refund cheques to 3.95 lakh investors who had deposited up to Rs 10,000 in various schemes run by Saradha.

Justice Sen, a retired high court chief justice, would have cleared the cheques only after verifying the authenticity of the claims.

Which means that although it has been established that 3.95 lakh investors were cheated, the SIT has managed to pursue only 550 cases. This translates into 0.14 per cent of the established instances of malpractice, unless the SIT has managed to club lakhs of cases in 550 files.

The measly percentage is based on just the established instances. As many as 17 lakh investors had filed applications with the Sen commission. Besides the 3.95 lakh investors, the claims of the others are still being verified.

The SIT is projecting the figure 550 as a big trophy. “Cases were lodged against Sudipta Sen almost everywhere in the state. In terms of volume, this has been a huge logistics headache for us,” said a SIT official.

Another SIT official tried to justify the team’s record. “People saw hope in the Justice Sen commission. The prospect of refund was a catalyst that prompted thousands to approach the commission, which was not the case with the SIT. Besides, local police stations do not have the resources to go from house to house in search of complainants.”

Implicit in the defence is an admission that SIT did not inspire as much hope in the people as the commission did and that Bengal police are not equipped to get to bottom of the scandal — the principal reasons why many have been seeking a CBI probe.

Other sources said the SIT had been largely compiling case reports from various police stations, giving an impression of rapid action in the face of a state-wide furore and multiple demands for a CBI probe in the immediate aftermath of Sudipta Sen’s flight and subsequent arrest.

The SIT’s terms of reference offer a clue. The terms state that SIT members are empowered under Section 36 of the Criminal Procedure Code (when senior officers can take control of cases) to probe complaints “against those companies which received public deposits and do not repay the same whenever such complaints are lodged before any police station”.

Sources said all police stations were asked to inform the SIT of complaints lodged against Saradha. The superior officers would then guide the police stations.

In effect, the SIT confined itself to individual cases and Sudipta Sen, without trying to unravel “the larger conspiracy with political overtones” — a phrase used by the Supreme Court which has concluded hearings and is expected to deliver a verdict on whether a CBI probe is warranted.

Other than Sudipta Sen, MP Ghosh and Saradha director Debjani Mukherjee, only three other company officials and two agents have been arrested so far by the SIT. Sudipta Sen’s wife and son were arrested by the Centre-run Enforcement Directorate, not the SIT.

In short, all that one year’s toil by the SIT has established is that eight persons, many of who are mere employees, have pulled off one of the biggest frauds in Bengal.

Once the Justice Sen panel started disbursing the cheques and the uproar subsided, the SIT appears to have kept itself on the sidelines.

“We cannot remember when a meeting with the SIT members was held in the recent past,” said an official. “In the initial stages, special meetings would be held at the Writers’ Buildings and Bhabani Bhavan (in Alipore) as well. It continued for a couple of months. Calls for meetings stopped reaching us in proportion to the ebb in the clamour.”

But unwittingly or otherwise, the SIT has helped the state government deter a CBI probe.

Less than a fortnight after the chief minister announced that the SIT would probe the Saradha default, two public interest litigation petitions were moved before Calcutta High Court, seeking a CBI probe.

Both PILs came up for disposal before the division bench of Chief Justice Arun Kumar Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi.

After a day’s hearing, the chief justice decided not to hear the case and assigned it to the division bench of Justice Asim Kumar Banerjee and Justice Mrinal Kanti Chowdhury. Chief Justice Mishra still heads Calcutta High Court and had recently presided over the bench that stayed for three weeks a single bench’s orders, which included a summons to the DGP, in a murder case to which Trinamul leader Anubrata Mondal has been linked.

Last June, the division bench headed by Justice Banerjee passed an interim order saying it was not handing over the investigation to the CBI and was allowing the SIT to continue its probe.

“The SIT will continue its probe and this court will monitor the investigation. The SIT chief is directed to file a report every month to the registrar-general of the court,” the division bench said.

The bench had made it clear that if found necessary, it would hand over the investigation to the CBI.

The Saradha case in Calcutta High Court has been kept “adjourned” because of the hearing in the Supreme Court.