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The Rediff Special/A Ganesh Nadar

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Millions

This man could well be one of India's richest men.

ramalinga Nadar For over half-a-century, Ramalinga Nadar has waged relentless war with redtape, to get the Rs 423 million his father deposited in the Azad Hind Bank. But the RBI, to whom the Azad Hind Bank's assets were transferred, has refused to give Nadar his missing millions. A Ganesh Nadar travelled to Madras to find out more about this strange story.

Like many others from Tamil Nadu's Nadar community, V K Chelliah Nadar moved to Burma in the early part of the century. He made the cross over in 1914, just before the First War, when many from his community were leaving Tamil Nadu in search of a fortune. The Nadars either went to Burma or Colombo and built their fortunes there through hard work and thrift.

Chelliah Nadar started life in Burma as a supplier of manpower. Supplying cheap labour from back home to whoever needed it. He then entered the scrap iron business, buying condemned pipes, machinery from the British and selling it to Japanese tradesmen.

His fortunes soared after he started doing regular business with the Japanese government's Copper Limited. Chelliah Nadar, like the rest of his family, kept his money in the Azad Hind Bank in Rangoon. Chelliah Nadar's deposit at that time stood at Rs 423.3 million. He had also deposited 16,105 gold coins in the bank.

Subhas Chandra Bose often approached the affluent Nadars for funds and they obliged Netaji with large amounts of money for his Indian National Army.

In 1944, when the British reclaimed Burma from the Japanese, the Azad Hind Bank's assets were seized by the war department. After much debate, the British turned over the assets to the newly formed Reserve Bank of India in Calcutta.

Ramalinga Nadar For nearly 40 years, Chelliah Nadar made every attempt to get his money from the RBI. All his efforts yielded no result and Chelliah died in January 1983. His son Ramalinga Nadar picked up from where his father left and is still fighting redtape for the Rs 4.3 billion the RBI owes him along with interest.

Ramalinga Nadar is a short man. He has a prominent stomach like most Nadar businessmen and lives in a building he owns in Washermpet, Madras. His is a modest house; the rest of the building is rented out and Ramalinga lives off the monthly rent.

The years of futile struggle have made him cynical about publicising his ordeal. "What's the point, what's the use?" he asks me frequently throughout the interview. Ramalinga, however, still believes the government will return his money because others like him have received their deposits. Unfortunately though, Ramalinga does not have his father's passbook, cheque book or any bank slip.

He, however, has photocopies of certain documents. One of which is a statement of accounts in the Azad Hind Bank. Dated 21.11.1943, it shows that Chelliah's family had five accounts in the bank.

The total deposit shown is Rs 42,33,04,000. The number of gold coins is 16,105.

Another document from the National Archives of India indicates that money was brought into this country between January 1944 and May 1945. It further states that this money is not illegal. The Central Board of Revenue, in a letter dated 24.1.1947, credited the amount under the Head of Account "Land 1" customs miscellaneous.

RBI The third document is a copy of a confidential circular sent by the under secretary, Government of India, to the chief secretaries of the states on January 13, 1945. This circular states that money should be confiscated from those who entered India across the eastern border after January 15, 1944. Those who entered India before that date were allowed to claim the money due to them.

The fourth document is a letter written by the RBI, Bombay, to Chelliah Nadar on February 2, 1981. It says, "We cannot help you."

The fifth document is a letter from the finance ministry to Ramalinga Nadar. It says; "With reference to your letter to the President of India, please contact the Reserve Bank of India."

The sixth document is a letter written by the RBI, Calcutta, to Ramlinga Nadar. Dated April 18, 1985. Its contents: "Take up the matter with the chief accountant, department of government and bank account, RBI Bombay."

The last document is a letter written on 10.2.87 to the under secretary, war department, Government of India by Ramalinga Nadar. It continues with his long standing demand.

Ramalinga Nadar has studied only up to standard V. He believes the records of his fortune lie unchecked in the National Archives, 113, North Block, New Delhi.

RBI A light comes into his eyes, a gleam of pride when he says, "We did business with Nippon; the makers of Toshiba batteries traded with us."

His only ray of hope is that others who banked with the Azad Hind Bank have received their money, so why not he?

Who knows what the RBI will do next? Ramalinga Nadar is not willing to share the spoils. He wants the whole cake. If he did, perhaps he would get most of his money. And that a bird in hand is worth two in the bank.

Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar

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