After lying low for the past several years after the Saradha scandal unfolded, chit funds are back in business in rural West Bengal, this time under the garb of "agricultural schemes".
The consumer affairs department has started a campaign against these chit funds which are operating on a small scale in various parts of Bengal.
"For more than a year we have been receiving several complaints, especially from rural Bengal about investors not getting returns or the capital siphoned off in various agricultural schemes," Consumer Affairs Minister Sadhan Pande told PTI.
The minister said that some chit funds promised huge returns on investment on potato purchase scheme and some others promised huge returns on tree plantation and poultry farming.
These ponzi schemes are not big like Saradha or other major chit funds companies which are presently under the scanner of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate, according to the minister.
After the Saradha bubble burst in April, 2013, several Ponzi schemes and chit fund companies had to wind up their operations as central and state agencies cracked the whip amid protests by lakhs of defrauded investors.
According to the consumer affairs department, these chit funds are operating at such a small level that at times it becomes tough even for the local administration to locate them.
"These operators are taking the advantage of lack of proper banking facilities, poverty and illiteracy of the investors. In most cases the promise of huge return lure the investors into the trap. In most cases the investors and the frauds are known to each other," a senior official said.
The official said that in many cases these potato and other agricultural schemes offered investors guaranteed return of 20-100% on their investment within a fixed period of time.
A chit fund company, which is being investigated by the CBI, had started a scheme called "potato flexi scheme" promising huge returns on investment in potato business.
On steps the consumer affairs department is taking to deal with such cases, a senior official of the department sounded helpless, saying, "If you buy a fridge and you are facing a problem then we can solve the matter. But in these cases of local chit funds we have nothing much to do."
"Whenever we receive such complains, we direct the complainant to lodge an FIR and then direct these cases to the state finance ministry. Earlier when the Shyamal Sen Commission was there we used to send these complaints to the commission but now we send it to the state finance ministry," the official explained.
Pande said that his department was conducting a campaign to make the poor and gullible rural people aware of the pitfalls of investment into these schemes.
"We are telling them that apart from bank, post office or government entities, they should not invest in any scheme or financial company which are not approved by the SEBI, RBI or other central financial agencies," Pande said.