The spotlight on Bengal’s mass loss of faith in private deposit schemes stayed on the controversial Saradha group and its promoter, Sudipta Sen, as a depositor today committed suicide.
Meanwhile, a ruling party leader said the chief minister would convene a meeting on the entire issue tomorrow and also wanted the state government to take over the group’s assets. A 50-year-old domestic help set herself on fire at Baruipur in South 24 Parganas, on learning the entire savings she had put in Saradha’s schemes could not be retrieved. She died in a city hospital, where she was admitted in critical condition. At least another two suicide attempts by Saradha agents from the districts were also reported.
As panic spread, depositors of Greenbang, which has nothing to do with Saradha, attacked its office in Jalpaiguri in the northern part of the state, demanding their money back.
The ruling Trinamool Congress found itself politically cornered, as agents and depositors claimed they’d put their faith in Saradha because of the group’s perceived proximity to the party and its leadership. Many of them even believed it was a government organisation.
Asim Dasgupta, veteran finance minister from the CPI(M) in the predecessor Left Front government, today said that in 2009, the then government had initiated an investigation against four companies, Saradha among these. “We had even alerted the Securities and Exchange Board of India, which issued a showcause notice. What progress has the current government made on the investigation?” he asked.
Dasgupta also recalled his government had enacted a law to control chit funds, still awaiting the President’s assent.
“Sudipta Sen should be arrested immediately. The delay is hampering the investigation,” he said, addressing a press conference.
Trinamool general secretary Mukul Roy said the chief minister had called the President. “There were some flaws in the Bill; we want the process to be expedited,” he said. And, disclosed that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would convene a meeting tomorrow.
“The state government wants to issue an ordinance to take over Saradha's assets," Roy said.
A lawyer representing the state said Sen had fled from Kolkata and was trying to leave the country. One of the group’s directors, Manoj Kumar Nagel, who was arrested yesterday and remanded to police custody for five days, claimed he had been framed by Sen.
In 2011, Trinamool MP Somen Mitra wrote to the Prime Minister, demanding urgent measures against the proliferation of the chit fund business in the state. He had also mentioned in that letter 11 companies, including the Saradha group, as prominent enough to attract a probe. He had also mentioned that MPs were being influenced by these funds, hinting at involvement of some of his own party MPs in these activities.
<B>The man all seek</B><BR>
As for the background of Sudipta Sen, his rise was meteoric, from a real estate agent to a media baron, among other things.
His first brush with business seems to have been real estate ventures. The ‘chit fund business’, as it is being loosely called, made its debut in 2006. Around the same time, Sen tried to register one of his several companies, Saradha Tours & Travels, as a non-banking financial company but it did not meet the criteria.
Saradha has numerous companies. Some that are registered with the registrar of companies are just shell companies. Among the major ones are Saradha Realty, Saradha Construction and Saradha Tours & Travels.
Saradha became a household name when it surfaced in the media space around 2009 through Channel 10, a Bengali news channel. In 2010, he launched an English daily, Bengal Post, and a Bengali daily, Sakalbela. The expansion was rapid and till he suddenly closed down all the media arms, he owned at least 10.
Yet, there are few employees who met him and even fewer who can claim to know him. Even senior editorial staff of the Saradha group say they’ve hardly met him even once in the past few years. He maintained a low profile, gave instructions that none of the media vehicles should carry his picture, and kept a hands-off editorial policy. Trinamool Congress MP, Kunal Ghosh, who was the group’s media chief executive, was the face of the latter business.
Agents of Saradha’s collective investment schemes claim he was soft-spoken and quite a charmer. The ones who claim are among the few who say they got a chance to meet him at the annual agents’ meet.
The group’s website doesn’t have any picture of Sudipta Sen. Ironically, the only picture on the chairman and managing director’s page is an empty chair.
THE MAN ALL SEEK
- Sudipta Sen had a meteoric rise from a real estate agent to a media baron
- First brush with business seems to have been real estate ventures
- ‘Chit fund business’ made its debut in 2006
- Around the same time, Sen tried to register one of his several companies, Saradha Tours & Travels, as a non-banking financial company but it did not meet the criteria