State feels Saradha aftershocks

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By SUBHASHISH MOHANTY AND SIBDAS KUNDU
  • Published 30.04.13
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Bhubaneswar, April 29: The tremors of Bengal’s Saradha swindle are being felt in Odisha.

Hundreds of complaints of being cheated by the group are pouring in from people of coastal districts such as Puri, Balasore and Bhadrak.

Flooded with such complaints, the state government today asked the crime branch to take up cases relating to the fraud with its counterparts in Bengal.

Though the officials have not estimated the extent of money that had gone to Saradha Group from Odisha, sources said it could be around Rs 200 crore.

Facts about the company cheating people in Odisha came to the fore after the arrest of group chief Sudipta Sen, his key aide Debjani Mukherjee and the company’s Jharkhand chief Arvind Singh Chauhan from Kashmir on April 23. While people cheated by Saradha Group in Balasore have sought the intervention of the district collector, the depositors in Puri today organised a rally demanding the government to come to their rescue.

They have also registered a complaint with the economic offences wing of the crime branch. The company office in Puri has been closed for the last seven days.

“The government should intervene and come to our rescue. We were taken aback when we came to know that the office has been closed for the last seven days,” said 53-year-old Subhra Nayak who deposited nearly Rs 80,000 with the company.

While Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced setting up of a Rs 500-crore relief fund for the affected people, Odisha is yet to announce any such package.

Worried over the unexpected development, state development commissioner-cum-finance secretary Jugal Kishore Mohapatra today called a meeting to take stock of the situation. Senior officials of the crime branch, registrar of companies, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) attended the meeting.

Mohapatra told The Telegraph: “We are serious about the protection of interests of common investors. We will try to educate them on safe-deposit schemes and soon bring a law to this effect.”

As per the decision, the state government will approach both the RBI and Sebi to send one official each on deputation to the state to crack the chit-fund cases.

It has also planned to strengthen the economic offences wings of the crime branch and expedite the investigation of pending cases.

Mohapatra said the Odisha government had already passed an anti-fraud Bill called Orissa Protection of Interests of Depositors (in financial establishments) Bill.

“The Bill was passed in the Assembly in December 2011 and later sent to the President for his approval in April 2012. The Centre had sent back it to the Odisha government with some queries. We have sent back replies to all the queries three weeks ago,” said Mohapatra. Mohapatra further said the law would help the government trace the investors’ money and try to bring it back as far as possible and return it to them.

“We are also planning to make such frauds a punishable offence,” he said.

Sources said the Bill has a provision for awarding up to 10 years’ imprisonment and confiscation of the properties of the company.

Mohapatra said the state government has asked the crime branch to create awareness among people. Additional director general of police (ADG), crime branch, Bijoy Kumar Sharma, said: “A number of cheating cases have come to the notice of the crime branch. Though we have not estimated the exact amount of money involved, preliminary investigation has revealed that it may run into a few hundred crores.”

He further said that they had plans to put up hoardings in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Balasore, Angul, Aska and Berhampur to educate people on the issue. Asit Sinha, an agent-cum-investor in Puri, said: “They had taken us to Calcutta. We saw the headquarters of the company and were impressed.”

Another chit fund agent Madhav Chandra Mishra of Basta in Balasore said: “On behalf of the Saradha Group, I had collected Rs 50 lakh. I had also invested Rs 20 lakh of my own. I have lost my entire savings and now my clients are chasing me.”

Balasore district collector Ranjit Mohanty said: “I have asked the investors and agents of Saradha to lodge a complaint.”