For many, it brings back memory of the dark Poila Baisakh when their world came crashing down

It is Bengali New Year’s Day today. A day marked by festivities, hearty feasts and family bonding. Not so for the people affected by the Saradha scam.

While the duped depositors are trying to reconstruct their lives after losing their lives savings, the agents have fled their families and villages after being hounded by people seeking refunds.

For them, this day brings back memory of the dark Poila Baisakh when their world came crashing down as they discovered that the firms in which they had invested their life savings and trust had failed them.

They are the Abdullahs , the Sujatas, the Subratas, whose lives were changed by the now bust Saradha scam- easily among the biggest financial frauds of the country. Over 1.5 million depositors lost an estimated Rs 300 billion in the scam which felled not only the depositors but also the agents and the employees of the companies in which the Saradha group had ploughed in their money.

At least, one of these happened on-camera when the team of an entertainment channel funded by Saradha wept inconsolably at a Borsho Boron (heralding the new Year) show in 2013.

The group’s presence spawned several sectors although the most visible one was in the media.

Nearly 100 journalists lost their jobs to the fraud last year, besides a part of their wages which had run into three months arrears.

“Overnight we became untouchables in the media and very few could find their way back into journalism,” said an affected former journalist, Sohini, who has not been able to join any media house and now works out of home providing web content. Many others have remained unemployed doing odd jobs.

The Mamata Banerjee government faced one of the toughest challenges to its credibility with the outbreak of the Saradha affair, although the fact remained that the group and similar other entities had started flourishing much before.

The government set up a special enquiry commission into all such schemes and also a Rs. 500-crore fund to return depositors’ monies.

It has now been established that lack of adequate financial inclusion on the one hand and dearth of employment opportunities had made the eastern region a happy hunting ground for the scamsters. Of the 87 ponzi scheme running companies, 73 were from here.

Enquiries revealed that, the Justice (Retd) Shyamal Sen Inquiry Commission received over 17 lakh complaints from duped depositors.

While Saradha was the among the most brazen of such frauds, there were several other similar schemes which shut shop although there was no payment default, leaving in the lurch scores of depositors and more importantly agents, whose lives have changed.

Says Abdulla Laskar, who has had to flee his village in Diamond Harbour, some 47 km south of the city : “From being an agent of finance company, I have been reduced to a street hawker.. I cannot face my depositors although I have sold property to refund Rs. 20 lakh to the depositors,” he said. A family unification remains a dream for him.

Many fresh cases are coming to light and the political patronage that was one of the main reasons why Saradha was able to attract such customers continues.

This was admitted by a Minister in Ms Banerjee’s government who said that some collective investment schemes are still being run. Market watchdog SEBI recently asked two-city based companies, asking then to refund depositors’ money. More recently, an aggrieved depositor of a company whose operations were similar to that of Saradha has taken the matter to the Calcutta High Court.

What is most disturbing that in this case too is that top leaders of the ruling party’s name were used on the company brochure.

(Names have been changed on request).