More than Rs 5 crore and jewellery worth over Rs 13 crore have been found in at least 200 unclaimed lockers in the basement of Vardaan Market on Camac Street during raids by the income tax department over the past few weeks.
A vault in the basement of the market has 649 lockers, officials in the IT department said.
“We had published advertisements in six dailies asking people who had rented the lockers to claim their valuables. Around 200 lockers remained unclaimed. So, we had to break them open,” an official heading the operation said.
Sources said many of these 200 lockers had been rented out to NRIs, who either had given false local addresses or have since changed their phone numbers.
According to the IT officials, there is no bar in renting lockers if the Know Your Customer guidelines issued by the Reserve Bank of India are followed.
Sources said the operation followed a tip-off earlier this year that a “lot of unaccounted for money and gold” were stashed in lockers in the basement of Vardaan Market.
A busy shopping complex, Vardaan Market has 365 shops selling garments, jewellery, shoes, household items and apparel. A few thousand shoppers turn up at the market daily.
The vault housing the lockers is registered in the name of Shree Vardaan Safe Deposit Vaults Pvt Limited, a company that was formed in 1984, two years before the market had been unveiled.
The principal director of income tax (investigation), Bengal, Ashish Verma, said Rs 21 crore in unaccounted for cash and gold had been seized by the IT department and various state agencies across Bengal since the announcement of the Lok Sabha election dates.
“A considerable part of the gold and the jewellery was seized from Vardaan Market lockers,” he said.
The lockers have been under the scanner since February 1.
People who had rented the lockers were asked to produce documents related to the source of the valuables found inside.
“Many people validated their claims. The cash and the gold that could not be accounted for were seized,” a member of the inquiry team said.
Sources said these lockers were mostly rented out to city businessmen.
Senior IT officials are urging people to alert the department about illegal transactions by calling up the control room set up in the run-up to the elections.
“The identity of the informers will kept secret. We are encouraging people to call us at our 24x7 helpline (see chart) and alert us about any financial transaction or money they find suspicious,” additional director, IT, Debashis Majumder said.