Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has a new task at hand-feeding the emus, around which irregularities have been raging. The state government on Monday said it had allocated Rs 1 crore to the animal husbandry department to provide food to the starving birds. It is unclear whether this is a one-time allocation or one of the many such doles the department might need to rear the birds long enough to recover at least a part of the hundreds of crores invested on these.
Thousands of birds have been left unattended in farms in the Erode-Salem belt. Farm owners had taken flight after the government ordered raids on illegal investment schemes such as buy-backs and circular trading being run through these farms. "I have directed the police to return the money of depositors by confiscating the property of the emu farm owners through court," Jayalalithaa said in a statement.
Though the state government has been trying to help the birds, as well as those who invested in the scheme, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) have turned a blind eye to the developments. And, encouraged by the regulatory apathy, similar illegal schemes have begun to surface in other parts of the country.
Earlier, many had stated regulatory bodies should have stepped in to prevent the irregularities in the farm industry.
As the government action led to emus being left uncared for, the birds began to starve. Following this, the chief minister had directed the animal husbandry department to take good care of the birds. Veterinarians from the department and Namakkal Veterinary College were assigned for the job.
The department would rear the chicks, which would be sold once they grew. Part of the money would be used to cover the fodder expenses incurred by the department, while the rest would be distributed among depositors, Jayalalithaa had said. However, farmers say selling the emus might not be easy. With no proper market for emu meat or other emu products, slaughtering the birds might not realise even a fraction of the investment.
According to government officials, while the preliminary estimate is 25,000 people being cheated by the farm owners for a total Rs 500 crore, the numbers are expected to go up as new complaints are received every day. Cases have been registered against the promoters of Queen Emu Farms, Alma Emu Farm, Susi Emu Farm and TVS Emu Farm under Section 120 (b), 406 and 420 of the penal code and Section 5 of the Tamil Nadu Protection of Interest of Depositors (TNPID) Act, 1997. The owner of Susi Emu Farms, which accounts for about 10,000 investors, had introduced a buy-back scheme to attract marginal farmers. These farm companies had also managed to rope in film stars to endorse their brands. Susi Emu was endorsed by popular film star-turned politician Sarath Kumar, a member in the legislative Assembly. The film stars are also facing legal charges for endorsing these farms. Officials have said the owners of these farms hadn't been using the funds for business expansion and had been swindling investors. Also, they were not taking due care of the birds, they added.