Under fire for claiming it has refunded thousands of crores of rupees to investors in cash, the Sahara group on Wednesday said such large-scale dealings were possible with its vast network of branches.

The group also sought to shift the blame to SEBI for delaying the refund to investors, while saying that its cash transactions were based on a “strict, convenient, safe and cost-effective policy.”

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked how Sahara had transacted only in cash while purportedly refunding Rs. 20,000 crore. The court made the observations after Sebi said the group had not furnished any bank statements to support the refunds to investors, claiming the amount was paid in cash.

After a brief hearing, the court adjourned the case to February 20.

The group said in the statement today that it had put in place the cash policy after hundreds of cases of “snatching, robberies, injuries” and even death faced by its workers while carrying money between branches and banks.

Blaming SEBI, Sahara said the regulator “does not want to understand the spread of our network into 4,700 centres” and the average daily payment at each branch of about Rs. 2.5 lakh.

The long-running case relates to the refund of over Rs. 24,000 crore to investors by two Sahara firms through SEBI.

Sahara deposited Rs. 5,120 crore with SEBI and claimed that more than Rs. 20,000 crore was returned directly to investors who had subscribed to bonds issued by the two firms.

Sahara claimed that in the past 17 months, SEBI has repaid about Rs. 70 lakh out of the Rs. 5,120 crore deposited.

It claimed SEBI had not initiated verification of even one of the 3 crore investors in the past 17 months and had avoided reporting the valuation of asset details submitted by Sahara. The group welcomed the court’s direction to Sebi to come out with the valuation report.

Stating that the image and credibility of Sahara, where 12 lakh families earn their livelihood, have been “severely affected,” the group said most of its investors were small and the average bond investment amount was Rs. 8,000.

In the detailed statement, the group claimed almost 98 per cent of its investors had put in amounts ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 19,000.

Most of these people do not go to banks. These investors deposit cash and want to take back cash, Sahara said, justifying its cash dealings with them through “more than 4,700 offices with lakhs of workers” across the country.

The group said it has adopted a policy wherein the entire “Sahara India” was considered to be one and money inflows from different businesses in a single day were first used for all payments of that day and then the final settlement was done at the headquarter level.

Sahara said such a policy for cash dealings within the group was followed after a few workers who used to carry money between branches and banks had lost their lives.

“It happened hundreds of times where these workers faced snatching, robberies, few had died, many had serious injuries and many more had minor injuries. Our workers always feel scared to take money to deposit into the bank or from bank to offices and it is definitely not possible cost wise to provide one-two gunmen at more than 4,000 branches.

“If the policy would have been to get all the collected money from branches to headquarters and then again send back to the branches for payments, it would cost us a huge amount of bank charges and also loss of interest would have been very big amount,” the group said.

Claiming that only about 50 per cent of the Indian population had access to bank accounts, it said Sahara India is a “partnership firm” with infrastructure throughout the country.

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