More and more politicians, bureaucrats, police officers and celebs are being probed as investigation into Saradha and other chit fund scandals spreads beyond Bengal into neighbouring states.
Last year, Bhola Pramanik, then 27, a van rickshaw-puller, saw his savings disappear in the Saradha chit fund. So did his mother, who killed herself. Having lost her husband when Bhola was six months old, Urmila Pramanik had worked as a domestic help, a vegetable seller and a daily wager, brought up the boy and put aside some savings, little by little, over 27 years. Mother and son deposited Rs 30,000 in three Saradha schemes, which promised a return of Rs 60,000, and hoped to buy a rickshaw of Bhola’s own.
On April 20, 2013, Bhola woke up to the screams of his mother who had set herself on fire in a small thatched toilet at their mudhouse in a village 40 km off Kolkata. A year and a half later, Bhola is still trying to get his money back. Urmila is listed among 82 investors who have committed suicide.
This week, the scandal claimed another victim in Shankar Baruah, a former director general of police in Assam, who shot himself dead. He was about to be interrogated by the CBI in connection with Saradha’s operations in Assam; he was being probed for allegedly having been paid to “protect” the group of companies.
Victim and subject of the probe, the widow and the policeman represented two ends of a scandal that has touched countless people one way or another in Bengal and neighbouring states. An ongoing CBI probe has unearthed the spread of the company to Assam and similar chit fund cases in Orissa, and also taken investigators to Bihar and Jharkhand.
The Bengal government had set up a special investigation team of the police and it ended up unearthing apparent links between the company and ministers, MPs, bureaucrats, and celebrities close to the ruling Trinamool Congress. Several PILs were filed demanding a CBI inquiry, the government opposed it, and the matter went to the Supreme Court which handed the probe to the CBI on May 9. What has followed is the interrogation of a series of high-profile personalities, some of whom have been arrested. The CBI is probing the political connections while the Enforcement Directorate is following the money trail.
The CBI has arrested former DG of Bengal Armed Police Rajat Majumdar, East Bengal Club official Debabrata Sarkar, and businessman Sandhir Agarwal. In Assam, it has arrested Assamese filmmaker and singer Sadananda Gogoi, all of them for alleged dealings with Saradha CEO Sudipta Sen.