West Bengal Assembly elections are scheduled for next year, and the recent development in Saradha Scam is going to intensify the political heat in the state. In a contempt plea in Saradha Chit Fund Scam, the Central Bureau of Investigation has said in the Supreme Court that the funds from Chief Minister Relief Fund of West Bengal were used purportedly for the salaries of employees of Tara TV that is under investigation in the case.
Tara TV is a part of the Saradha Group of Companies. CBI has said that the CM Relief Fund paid Rs.27 lakh per month for 23 months from May 2013 to April 2015 towards the salaries of Tara TV employees.
In its application, the CBI said, “It is submitted that the said amounts were purportedly given towards salary payments of the employees of the said media company that was under investigation being part of Saradha Group of Companies.” The total amount clocks to Rs.6.21 crore that was paid using CM Relief Fund to pay Tara TV Employees Welfare Association.
CBI has also reportedly mentioned in its application that they had written to the chief secretary, West Bengal, on October 16, 2018, to provide information about the constitution and functioning of the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund so that the agency can investigate the suspicious payments further. However, they only got incomplete or evasive information from the state government.
High Court order did not ask to pay salaried from CM fund
CBI, while citing the High Court order when the court asked to pay the salary of the employees from the available funds, said that that order did not say that the salaries of the employees of a private TV channel can be paid using the state funds that were collected in the name of relief work. It said, “The Court order expressly states that the employees are to be paid out of the funds of the company. The payments from CM Relief Fund, ex-facie point towards a larger conspiracy and nexus.”
Mamata Banerjee Named in the application
The CBI appeal has hinted at the involvement of the Mamata Banerjee administration. It said, “Communication between the CBI and state authorities will show that there has been a concerted effort to evade, avoid and to escape the process of law and a conscious effort on part of the authorities to scuttle the investigation.”
CBI also noted that when Enforcement Directorate questioned former Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Kumar Ghosh in October 2013, it was revealed that CM Banerjee and Saradha Group promoter Sudipta Sen had very good relationships.
Ghosh is also one of the accused in the case. CBI said, “It is submitted that the same establishes that the Chief Minister used to talk to Sudipta Sen using the phone of Kunal Kumar Ghosh,” said the application. During the investigation, when CBI checked the call details of two numbers of Sen for one year, the agency found that he and Ghosh talked 298 times on one number and nine times on the second number, as per a report by Business Standard.
Role of former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar
The CBI also sought custodial interrogation of former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and said that Bidhannagar police had concealed evidence related to the connection between the ruling party of the state and Saradha Group of Companies on the behest of Kumar. CBI alleged that the step was taken to save everyone in the case.
When ED questioned Ghosh as a witness in October 2013, it was revealed that Kumar was in contact with ED during the arrests of Sudipta Sen, Debjani Mukherjee, or witnesses Ghosh and others during September to November 2013. CBI said, “It was ensured by the officials that grave facts narrated by these accused persons or witnesses must not be taken on record as part of the investigation with a purpose to shield the influential persons.”
During the investigation, the agency reportedly found more evidence that proved Kumar was actively involved in shielding and protecting the influential co-accused in the case who had illegally collected funds using illegal business activities of the group of Ponzi companies.
Saradha chit fund scam
The Saradha scam broke out into the open in 2013 when a Ponzi scheme run by the Saradha Group, a consortium of over 200 private companies, collapsed after collecting hundreds and thousands of crores from over 15 lakh investors.
Rajiv Kumar was part of the Special Investigation Team set up by the West Bengal government to probe the scam. In 2014, the Supreme Court handed over the investigation to CBI. In November 2019, the Supreme Court had sought a response from the IPS officer on the CBI’s appeal against Calcutta High Court’s order to grant anticipatory bail to Kumar. It is notable here that when CBI officials had gone to interrogate Rajiv Kumar in the case, CM Mamata Banerjee had sat in a dharna for days. She had called the interrogation a ‘political vendetta’.