As blade firm goes bust, victims face bleak future

The world of Samir Naskar, a 52-year-old grocer, came crashing down around him in April 2013 when the TV channels started airing news about Sudipto Sen being on the run.

 The CMD of the Saradha Group absconded sometime in April last year after realising that he was unable to pay back money to unsuspecting investors he had collected money from. 

Naskar, who is from Barasat in the North 24 Paragans district of West Bengal, remarked: “I lost lost Rs 40,000 to Saradha. I was saving money for the marriage of my youngest of three daughters. I decided to keep my hard-earned savings with Saradha when my distant nephew Dibakar Mondal took up an agency of Saradha and started collecting money from friends and relatives in November 2010.”

On April 25, 2013, when news spread that Sen had fled the scene and lakhs of investors have been left in the lurch, Dibakar was equally in the dark. He would not have believed if someone had told him six months ago that the company, patronised by host of Trinamool Congress ministers and leaders, would collapse in such a manner. Finding it easier to run away than face people like his uncle, he took off and even a year later, he is still on the run. 

There were cases of violence too. Some agents were assaulted by irate investors; some others took to more drastic measures by committing suicide. According to unofficial estimates, around 60 agents and depositors committed suicide in the aftermath of the unravelling of Saradha and other such operations. 

Swapan Majumdar, an agent of Ramel Group, was found hanging from the ceiling of his Belghoria residence in North 24 Parganas in May, 2013, after days of being hounded by investors. His fate was shared by Netai Maity from Uttar Raipur in South 24 Parganas, who hanged himself instead of facing the shame of being called a cheat. Maity was not only an agent of Saradha, who collected money from depositors, but also invested in the company himself and lost around Rs 60,000. 

Going by unofficial estimates, when the Saradha Group collapsed in April 2013, it caused an estimated loss of around Rs 3000 crore to more than 17 lakh depositors. In the aftermath of the scam, depositors and some agents came together and formed an association to have their voices heard by the government. The mood of the duped masses was expressed in several rallies they have taken out, demonstrations they have organised and slogans they have raised. 

Message to Mamata

What stands out as different at these rallies, beyond the sloganeering and effigy burning, is that those walking with placards are those who have been left at their wit’s end. While rallies and processions are not an unusual sight in Kolkata, the anger at these rallies has been palpable. Victims of Saradha scam managed to send out an eerie message to the Mamata Banerjee administration: “The government cannot treat us with apathy.” 

Not only did they demand their legally earned income is returned, they also demanded protection from such onslaughts in the future. “We also want to pass on the message to the government that it can’t make tall claims before every poll and then slither into its comfortable hole, not caring what happens to the people,” said Sourabh Mallik, a leader of the Chit Fund Sufferers’ Unity Forum, the body behind such protests. 

At the most recent rally, which took place last Friday, the turnout choked traffic and surprised the police. Talking to reporters, former Naxal leader Ashim Chatterjee said, “We did not expect such a response to our call. This is only because popular rage surpasses political allegiances when lives have been toyed with.” Naskar, who had participated in the rally, said, “We have been betrayed by Didi (Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) and her party… Most of us have lost everything. This would not have been possible without the government’s active backing of Saradha.” 

The state government instituted an inquiry commission under retired Justice Shyamal Sen to investigate the collapse of the Saradha Group and help out those duped by setting up a corpus of Rs 50 crore to ensure low-income investors are not bankrupted. “This is too little and too late. The government should have known even before Sen escaped what Saradha and other such companies have been doing is illegal. If they had stopped these companies instead of patronising them, this day would not have arrived. Now all that is left are sighs of hapless lakhs,” he said. 

With the Durga Puja season on, talking about April 2013 brings back memories of a dark Poila Baishakh — first day of the Bengali calendar — when the news of Saradha collapse broke. While for the rest of the world the day means festivities and feasts, those who lost money still feel a shiver down their spine thinking of the bleakness that surrounded them. Even though many are trying to reconstruct their lives and make do with whatever is left, the name Saradha would always be remembered with dread and loss. 

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