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Monday, Aug 19, 2019

Before LS polls, Mamata plans to counter ponzi schemes; “gimmick” says oppn leaders

The Bengal government will extend operational area of cooperative banks to panchayat areas where there are no banks.

kolkata Updated: Jun 29, 2018 20:26 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times
According to the state finance department, of the 3,354 gram panchayats  in Bengal, as many as 21%, or 716, do not have banks.
According to the state finance department, of the 3,354 gram panchayats in Bengal, as many as 21%, or 716, do not have banks.(HT File Photo)

With the spectre of dozens of dubious deposit mobilising companies polishing off billions of rupees of depositors’ money still looming large, Mamata Banerjee government has planned to offer banking services to 716 gram panchayats where there are no banks. While some big ponzi companies such as Saradha and Rose Valley are facing probe, many small ones are suspected to be operating.

According to state finance department data, of the 3,354 gram panchayats in Bengal, as many as 21%, or 716, do not have banks. Operators of dubious financial companies find it easy to target villagers who have no access to banking services. These companies lure unsuspecting people with promises of high returns.

On an average, a gram panchayat comprises four to five villages.

Read: CBI special director orders focus on Narada sting probe, asks for regular report

Ponzi scams detected so far may become issues once again in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. During his two-day visit to Kolkata last week, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special director Rakesh Asthana ordered quick progress in these probes. The Rose Valley scam, in which Trinamool MPs Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Tapas Pal were arrested, figured prominently in the discussion Asthana had with his officers.

Apart from Saradha and Rose Valley, CBI is investigating a number of ponzi schemes run by entities such as Icore, Tower Group, MPS Group, Silicon and Rahul Group. The Supreme Court directed the CBI to investigate the scams in 2014. The Saradha group collapsed in April 2013 after raising around Rs 2,500 crore mostly from lower middle class and poor customers.

Around 100 depositors and agents of the company committed suicide in the following months. A number of ruling party MPs, MLAs and ministers were sucked into controversy.

Read: Mamata Banerjee’s 6-year rule riddled with Saradha, Narada, Rose Valley scams

While Trinamool Congress is dealing with the issue politically, the government has decided to convert at least half of the 2,600 primary agriculture cooperative societies (PACS) into branches of cooperative banks by March 31, 2019. More than 85% of these PACSs are operating in areas that have no bank.

“All the societies will be upgraded to branches of cooperative banks. The sole aim is to offer banking service to villagers and save them from dubious companies,” said Bengal cooperation department minister Arup Roy.

The government plans for convert the remaining societies to branches of cooperative banks, the minister said.

“Once the societies are upgraded to banks, they will offer other all facilities such as current and savings accounts, fixed deposits and loans,” added the minister.

Read: Saradha scam: ED attaches Matang Sinh’s assets worth Rs 100cr in Lutyens Delhi

Opposition leaders have dismissed the decision as gimmick. “This is yet another gimmick before the 2019 elections. A party that has pampered chit funds for a long time is now trying to fool people,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha.

In January this year, while addressing a convention in Kolkata, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced the formation of a committee to enforce discipline, remove irregularities and ensure transparency in the functioning of cooperative banks and societies.

She emphasised on opening more banks in panchayat areas and also set a target for cooperative banks. She asked the banks to mobilise Rs 1 lakh crore (1,000 billion) in deposits in the current financial year.

A committee was subsequently formed under chief secretary Malay De. The committee recommended the conversion of PACS.

First Published: Jun 29, 2018 20:26 IST

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