West Bengal warned of ponzi menace, CM chose not to act

Business

In the fast moving developments around the chit fund controversy in West Bengal, it now transpires that West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra and Trinamool Congress MP Kunal Ghosh were a part of the state level bankers' committee which pointed out that deposits in public sector banks and post offices were drastically falling in favour of ponzi investment schemes. But the government apparently remained indifferent to the threat.

On September 25 last year, the state level bankers' committee, headed by former United Bank of India, chairman Bhaskar Sen met at the National Liabrary hall, where state finance minister Amit Mitra, Trinamool MP Kunal Ghosh and other state finance department and micro, small and medium enterprises department officials represented the state government.

The bankers' committee said in the meeting that small savings deposits in public sector banks and post offices in the state fell from Rs 12,000 crore in FY'11 to a meagre Rs 157 crore in FY'12. The bankers' committee clearly held the ponzi investment schemes running in the state responsible for such a situation.

Meanwhile the RBI has asked the committee to arrive at the level of exposure of banks to chit funds in the state. There are guesses that the level of fraud is about Rs 17,000 crore but there is no corroboration of the same.

A state government official told The Indian Express that at the meeting Mitra suggested the state government should take some measures but chief minister Mamata Banerjee remained non- committal. According to a source, Kunal Ghosh asked Mitra to steer clear of the issues. By then the investigation by market regulator Sebi into the affairs of Saradha had advanced considerably.

A home department official said prior to the state level bankers' committee report the Union home ministry had asked the state home department in August last year to initiate an inquiry against companies that were running ponzi schemes. Although the then state home secretary GD Gautama wanted to initiate action, he didn't get clearance from the chief minister, a source privy to the development said.

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