A judicial commission is being set up to probe the ‘call money’ racket that surfaced in Andhra Pradesh last week, the state cabinet said on Wednesday.
The loan racket came to light following a complaint by a Vijayawada-based family that women were being sexually exploited as repayment for loans.
Information minister Palle Raghunadha Reddy said so far 80 call money operators had been arrested in the state, barring Vijayawada. Of them, 27 had links with YSR-Congress (YSRC), six with the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and three with Communist Party of India; others had no political affiliation.
Reports suggested that a senior official from power department had been suspended for his alleged involved.
Finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu told reporters after the cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the commission would be headed by a retired high court judge.
“We are planning to bring Money Lending Bill in the Assembly Session (which starts on Thursday). The cabinet also gave approval. There is a need to go deep into the issue of illegal money lending and related sexual harassment. So the cabinet has decided to appoint a judicial commission which will submit a report to the government,” Ramakrishnudu said, though he did not specify when the commission would be appointed and the time-frame for the submission of report.
Call money is a mode of private lending where the amount is made available instantly over a phone call. The lender delivers the amount at one’s doorstep but for a high interest rate and can demand repayment any time over a call. Police discovered that women were being coerced into the flesh trade by lenders who were allegedly setting interest rates anywhere between 100% and 200%. Properties, immovable and movable assets were also being usurped by lenders, who investigations have revealed, were backed by several political affiliations.
The Vijayawada Police, led by commissioner D Goutam Sawang, had busted the racket last Saturday, recovering promissory notes, blank cheques, property documents, letters of agreements, etc., from money lending agents. Sawang said the police had conducted 107 raids so far.
Aside from hundreds of women being sexually exploited and properties being grabbed, close relatives had reportedly been kidnapped as well. The police have booked cases under sections under cheating, extortion, rape sexual harassment and defamation under the Indian Penal Code.
Sawang, who was due to go on leave for 10 days to the US, on Wednesday said he had cancelled his trip to continue the ongoing investigations. Sawang’s leave had caused speculation that he was under political pressure considering the political angle that was emerging in the case. However, director general of police, JV Ramudu said the leave was not “extraordinary” and had in fact been granted last month.
Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s government has been facing pressure to act against such private lenders, with the main opposition YSRC alleging that many TDP leaders were behind the racket. For his part, Naidu said his government would act tough on the accused and directed district collectors to invoke the Nirbhaya Act.