Kolkata: Breaking her silence over the collapse of chitfund company, Saradha Group, which has hit thousands of depositors across the state in the last few days, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday instituted a high-level inquiry and deputed a special investigation team into it.
Banerjee told reporters after a high-level meeting that a SIT under the DGP would go into the fiasco and a high-level inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act was being instituted.
The chief minister also said that a draft for promulgating an ordinance having more teeth to restrict operations of chitfund companies was prepared.
She said that she had telephonically requested President Pranab Mukherjee, who inquired about her health yesterday, to see that the bill passed by previous Left Front government seeking to restrict chitfund operations, was returned to enable the state government to incorporate more stringent provisions to deal with such illegal activities.
"If the bill forwarded by the Left Front government to the Centre in 2009, is returned within 24 hours, then our government will immediately promulgate the ordinance to that effect," the chief minister said.
"Laws that the Left Front government had proposed, had some flaws in it and the chitfund business mushroomed during the Left regime," she alleged.
Stating that strong laws were needed to curb the illegal activities of chitfunds, Banerjee said since their operations were governed by central laws and not by the state government, "the onus lies with the central government."
Expressing concern at the situation, she said "for quite a few years, some chitfunds were deceiving poor investors promising high returns. This has been continuing since the `80s in this state."
Banerjee said "I am very rough and tough,and if the
Centre returns the old bill forwarded by previous Left Front government to us within 24 hours we will see how money can be returned to investors."
She said the new law would have provisions for confiscating property, inspection, search and seizure and stringent action so that poor investors got their money back.
Banerjee said that the Bidhannagar police station, CID and the Kolkata police tried to act against Saradha Group chairman Sudipta Sen, but he escaped.
Asked whether the Trinamool Congress, her party, would take action against two MPs for their alleged links with the Saradha group, she said "They were not MPs when they were there. Law will take its own course. Our government is transparent. If anyone commits an offence, action will be taken against him."
Stating that inquiries were being made against many former CPI(M) ministers and also many journalists, she said without naming party Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh, who has since resigned as Saradha group media CEO, "If the MP has done any wrong, law will take its own course."
To questions, the chief minister said "I have no idea how much money they have collected from investors whether it is Rs 1,000 crore or Rs one lakh crore. But let us not do politics over the issue.
"It is not a question of CPI(M), Congress or Trinamool. Common people who have invested their savings have been cheated and we will have to see how the money can be returned," she said.
Justice (retd) Shyamal Kumar Sen of the Calcutta High Court would be the chairman of the four-member inquiry commission in which there would be an economist besides members from the IPS and the corporate sector, Banerjee said.
She said that the commission would also examine complaints against other chitfund companies.
Asked about her presence at a Saradha group function where ambulances and medical kits were distributed in junglemahal, Banerjee said "if any corporate entity wants to do social work, how do we know from where they collect their resources till we are sure."
Criticising the CPI(M), the chief minister claimed that front-page advertisements had been published in CPI(M)-run daily `Ganashakti` on March 18, 19 and 29, 2011.
Banerjee also accused a TV channel, which she alleged to be a pro-CPI(M) one, of running advertisements of the chitfund company during newsbreaks.
The chief minister said that no chitfund was registered in West Bengal. "This chitfund company has property in Jharkhand and Assam."
The chief minister appealed to investors to be careful in investing their hard-earned money.