Kolkata: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the multi-crore Saradha scam. A Bench headed by judges T S Thakur and C Nagappan announced the decision, keeping inter-state ramifications and the larger conspiracy angle in mind.
The apex court felt the CBI was needed to investigate the money trail and directed state agencies to assist the central agency in its probe. Besides Saradha, the CBI will also look into other Ponzi schemes in states such as West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, Jharkhand and Assam.
The court order was delivered in two public interest pleas-one filed by advocates Pratim Kumar Singha Ray and Abu Abbasuddin and the other by advocate Subrata Chattoraj-seeking a CBI inquiry into the scam. The Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal had opposed the demand, saying it was politically motivated. The Odisha government, however, supported a CBI inquiry.
On Friday, however, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee welcomed the order. "My money (the state government's) will be saved. So far, we were compensating the depositors. We have paid 400,000 depositors. Now, the CBI will have to do it," Banerjee said at a rally after the verdict.
The Odisha government said it was ready to provide full cooperation to the CBI for the probe. "We will fully comply with the Supreme Court's order. In the past, the state government has offered full cooperation to the CBI in all cases…As you are aware, this chit fund scam is not restricted to Odisha alone; it has spread to other states," said state finance minister Prasanna Acharya.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jual Oram said, "The apex court has finally realised the need for a CBI probe and we welcome the order. We hope the CBI will expose the politicians and officials who have offered patronage to Ponzi scheme operators."
The order is politically sensitive, as it comes just before the final phase of the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal (May 12). The Trinamool Congress has been under pressure after the Enforcement Directorate began investigating the links of a few party leaders with Saradha. Also, the state has drawn flak for not making any headway into the case.
About a year ago, the West Bengal government had set up a special investigation team to probe the case. The team did not question any Trinamool Congress leader, though the names of the party's general secretary, Mukul Roy, and transport minister, Madan Mitra, were doing the rounds since the scam came to light.
In contrast, the Enforcement Directorate has repeatedly questioned people connected to the scam through the past month. Theatre personality and the Trinamool Congress's Balurghat candidate for the elections, Arpita Ghosh, has been questioned twice.
Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, who campaigned in West Bengal extensively, had also raised the Trinamool Congress's links with Saradha on many occasions. He had also hinted Sudipta Sen, Saradha's chairman, had bought a painting of the state chief minister for Rs 1.8 crore.
"Mamata Banerjee should be ashamed for trying to defend the culprits. The truth will come out now," Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sujan Chakrabarty said on Friday.
In the last phase of the elections, 17 constituencies in the state, across the districts of Nadia, Murshidabad, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Kolkata, Purba Medinipur and Paschim Medinipur, go to the polls. These districts are home to the one million investors duped by Saradha.
STORY SO FAR
- 1st week of April, 2013: Saradha goes bust; Sudipta Sen absconding
- April 17: Saradha agents assemble at TMC office, demand govt intervention
- April 22: Bengal govt sets up SIT to probe the issue
- April 23: Sen arrested from Kashmir, along with executive assistant Debjani Mukherjee
- April 26: An inquiry panel set up to recommend compensation
- May 23: PIL filed in SC, seeking a CBI probe
- July 18: SC issues notice to Centre and West Bengal
- Nov 22: TMC MP Kunal Ghosh drags CM Banerjee & Mukul Roy into the matter
- Nov 23: Kunal Ghosh arrested
- March 26, 2014: SC says state didn't disclose the "larger conspiracy"
- April 23: Hearing ends in SC; West Bengal opposes CBI probe, while Odisha govt agrees to CBI inquiry
- April 17: ED arrests Sen's "absconding" wife, along with his son, from Kolkata
- May 9: SC orders CBI inquiry into all cases relating to Saradha