Though the chit fund scam surfaced first in West Bengal and the Trinamool Congress came under the scanner for political patronage to one of the tainted companies, it is now official that the scale of the scam is much larger in Orissa.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express reveal 163 chit fund firms have collected around Rs 4,600 crore by defrauding the people in the state. The chit fund scam in West Bengal is estimated at Rs 2,460 crore. Moreover, at least 10 lakh families, mostly belonging to the low-income group, have been affected by the scam in Orissa.
The disclosure has come at a time when the Naveen Patnaik government faces the poll test. Orissa is in the midst of elections for both Lok Sabha and Assembly seats. While the first phase of polls is over, polling for the remaining 11 Lok Sabha and 77 Assembly seats is to be held on April 17.
The state government’s Economic Offence Wing (EOW) and the CID, which are under pressure to take quick action in the wake of the magnitude of the scam and a scrutiny by the Supreme Court, have so far confiscated properties of 43 companies. These 43 companies collected Rs 2,900 crore by floating various small saving schemes with promises of high returns.
Interestingly, the investigators have confiscated one TV channel by the Seashore Group, besides more than 2 quintals of silver and 1.35 kg of gold in their raids.
As many as 441 cases have been registered till date and 331 chargesheets have been filed in special courts, set up by the Orissa government exclusively for trying ponzi scam cases. Properties of seven companies, including Saradha group which was linked to TMC in chit-fund scam in West Bengal, have been confiscated and the process has been initiated to auction these properties for refunding the investors. Public officers dealing with the land and revenue departments have been ordered not to execute any request for transaction pertaining to these properties, according to the documents.
As of now, EOW and CID are also examining the “larger conspiracy angles” in respect of three companies — Seashore, Artha Tatwa Group and Astha International.
The one-member Commission of Inquiry, headed by Justice R K Patra, has received around 8 lakh envelopes, containing affidavits of the investors who want refund. Some of the accused companies have also recorded their undertakings with the Commission that they wished to refund the money along with the usual rate of interest so as to prevent prosecution.
Prosecution has been launched under provisions of the Indian Penal Code for cheating and criminal conspiracy, and under the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act. The penal provisions can fetch imprisonment up to seven years.
A bench led by Justice T S Thakur is seized of a batch of PILs by Alok Jena and others, who have demanded CBI investigation into the scam against at least 44 companies.
Orissa was directed by the court to examine the larger conspiracy angle and not confine its probe to individual deposits. While indicating that a CBI probe may be ordered into scam in Orissa, the court had sought detailed information on inter-state ramifications of these scams too.