Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee missed the all important session of the state Assembly on Thursday, which passed all amendments to the West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments (Amendment) Bill-2015 — the law that will regulate and monitor chit fund companies.
State Finance Minister Amit Mitra, who moved the motion, said in his reply during the debate that the government has agreed to five of the six conditions put forward by the Centre, but did not agree to the last one that was related to compounding of offences.
None of the amendments brought in by CPM and Congress was accepted.
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The Bill was debated for hours and the amendments were admitted by the Speaker. The Bill had already received Presidential assent on March 25, this year and became an act on May 14, after it was published in the Kolkata Gazette.
But the assent had come with a rider and the Centre went on to take an undertaking from the state that it will amend the Bill within six months to change the provisions relating to money laundering — a central subject.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs had said that the assent was subject to the condition that Section 22 of the Bill will be amended. The Centre’s sixth condition was that the state should include a provision for compounding of offences. However, the government refused on the ground that it will dilute the act.
Now, with the new amendments brought in on Thursday, the Bill will once again be sent for President’s assent. “The conditions, which were accepted were powers to enter premises of the accused, conduct search and seizure, confiscation, attachment of property and selling of attached properties through public auction… The penal provision included life imprisonment as well,” Mitra said.
The Congress members rued that even after 12 years, the Bill is yet to become an Act. The Bill was first introduced by the Left Front government in 2003. It shows the lack of political will of both Left and Trinamool Congress, the MLAs said.
This was the third time that such a Bill was introduced by the Trinamool government in the last four years with a view to protect depositors from being cheated by financial institutions, as witnessed in the cases of Sanchayita, Overland, Verona and Saradha among others.
In a statement on reasons for bringing such a Bill, the government said the state has seen a mushrooming of financial establishments that were “wrongfully” collecting deposits from the people with the lure of high returns but ultimately failed in to pay up.
Earlier, Trinamool leader and minister Partha Chatterjee said the Left regime had given birth to such chit fund companies. “You are the perpetrators of these crimes… The Trinamool Congress government was showing the political will to monitor and control such activities,” he added.
Leader of Opposition Surya Kanta Mishra, meanwhile, accused the government of not revealing details of the new Act. “After Saradha went bust, the state government had set up the Justice Shyamal Sen Commission but till today, no one knows its findings and recommendations. The findings should be immediately placed before the House,” he said.
BJP’s lone MLA, Shamik Bhattacharya, alleged that if the Left regime had given birth to chit fund companies in the 1980s, Trinamool had given these institutions patronage.
“The Trinamool had desperately tried to stop a CBI inquiry into Saradha and other chit fund scams. The Congress had pursued the matter and finally, got the Supreme Court to order and monitor a CBI probe into the scam,” Mohammed Sohrab of Congress claimed.
Later, while speaking to mediapersons, Mitra said the report submitted by Justice Shyamal Sen on illegal money laundering by chit funds case did not indict anybody.