The West Bengal government’s plan to dole out compensation to Saradha investors seems to have met with the most unlikely challenge -- the missing recipients.
More than half the compensation cheques sent to investors in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation area have come back, as the local administration claims these beneficiaries do not exist.
According to sources, about 3,800 cheques were sent to applicants from the KMC area in October, but only about 1,500 cheques were received; the rest (60 per cent) were returned to the office of the Shyamal Sen Commission after the administration failed to locate beneficiaries.
The problem is not restricted to the KMC area. Of the 104,000 cheques, valuing about Rs 43 crore (Rs 430 million), issued so far to Saradha investors, a large number has come back to the Sen commission’s office from various districts, including Kolkata.
There are talks of this bearing an uncanny resemblance with the alleged fictitious investors of some Sahara group companies.
But an official points out: “Things here seem to be more complicated. . . There were people who applied for compensation a few months back. How can they disappear?”
When contacted, Shyamal Kumar Sen, who is heading the commission in charge of shortlisting and recommending beneficiaries’ names, agreed there were incidents of cheques being returned.
But he did not comment on how many cheques had been returned so far.
“We have been authorised to recommend the names of applicants eligible for compensation. We are doing that after verifying applications.
After the government’s approval, we are sending the cheques to the district magistrates concerned, or the corporation in Kolkata’s case.
Now, it is the local administration’s responsibility to ensure the cheques reach the beneficiaries,” Sen told Business Standard.
According to him, applicants could have filled the forms wrongly or local administrations could have failed in spotting the beneficiaries.
But neither the commission officials nor the state government seems to be convinced.
“It cannot be a mistake in data entry or one committed by an applicant while keying in his particulars.
"That cannot happen on such a large scale. Something is wrong somewhere; we need to figure that out,” an official associated with the commission said.
No minister or official seemed to be willing to comment on the matter till things became clearer.
Sources suggested the state government was unhappy with the commission over this.
The government was of the view that the Shyamal Sen commission had failed to deliver, they said.
Also, a senior government official pointed out: “The cheques remain valid for three months.
"The entire process of distributing compensation will collapse if cheques continue to come back.”
In fact, the government planned to issue Rs 80-crore cheques to another 166,000 investors by December.
This plan could now be in jeopardy.
“We are discussing with the government what can be done.
"We are hopeful things will be sorted out soon,” Shyamal Sen said. Sources suggested the matter was likely to be taken up at a meeting between the commission and government officials over next week.
The commission had received about 1.7 million applications during the probe.
Though most of these involved Saradha, investors of other companies like Amazon, Suraha Microfinance, Sunmarg, ICore, Rose Valley and Alchemist had also registered with the commission their complaints, which came up for hearing.
About 85 per cent of these complaints pertained to investments of less than Rs 10,000 each, while the highest amount invested by an individual in Saradha was Rs 27 lakh (Rs 2.7 million).
The state government had announced creating a Rs 500-crore fund to finance compensation disbursal.
Besides, the Sen commission had recommended the government sell Saradha’s assets to compensate the investors.
WILL THE REAL INVESTORS PLEASE STAND UP?
- Of the 104,000 cheques, about Rs 43 crore (Rs 430 million), issued so far to Saradha investors, a large number has come back
- About 3,800 cheques were sent to applicants from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation area in October but only about 1,500 cheques were received
- Shyamal Sen, heading a commission in charge of shortlisting and recommending beneficiaries’ names, says applicants could have filled the forms wrongly or local administrations could have failed in spotting the beneficiaries
- The West Bengal government's plan to issue Rs 80-crore (Rs 800-million) cheques to another 166,000 investors by December could now be in jeopardy