There are scores of incidents in West Bengal that could tell stories of compulsion, greed and abject poverty being prime culprits for its lakhs of inhabitants to fall into the clutches of chit fund businesses.
Sample these: twenty-nine-year-old Swapan Das required double of his income to pay for the treatment of his wife who is afflicted with Thalassaemia. He had invested at least Rs 10,000 of his hard-earned money in one of Saradha Group’s chit funds; Kallol Basu, 31, who intended to make a quick buck, invested over Rs 30,000 in two separate chit fund companies, Saradha and Rose Valley Groups; Mohd Abutaleb Ghazi, 62 years old, invested Rs 20,000 in Self-Trust Enterprises Ltd, a chit fund company, to boost meager sales in his shop.
Chit fund transactions promise low investment and great returns, at times double or treble of the principal amount. Swapan, Kallol and Abutaleb are just few of the numerous small depositors who stare into an uncertain future having squandered all their life’s earnings.
“Even Rs 20,000 is a lot of money for us. It is all that we have saved,” said Abutaleb.
It is not just a case of Saradha Group’s investors, but several chit fund businesses were forced to close down overnight after the scandal was exposed, leaving a trail of gloom and death.
There is the case of Mrinal Kanti Mondal, a 42-year-old resident of Sangrampur village in North 24 Parganas district, who consumed poison after failing to cope with his friends repeated taunts. He now left behind a wife and two daughters to pay for a debt of over Rs 7.5 lakh.
Another chit fund agent’s father Jagadish Roy was tied to a lamp post, face blackened and beaten up by women. Following this, Roy hanged himself from a ceiling in his house in Sodepur. His son Bidhan has been missing since the incident.
An investor, who lost Rs 30,000, set herself on fire in Baruipur in South 24 Parganas, while another three agents belonging to Saradha Group ended their lives.
Agitated depositors even strangled Hello India agent, Jayanta Sarkar, to death in the midnight in Chinsurah. The death toll in the fallout of Saradha is now 10. There are at least 72 known chit funds currently operating in the state. With government agencies turning attention to “ponzi” schemes and chit funds shutting shop, it is the disturbing story of neighbour turning against neighbour.
The situation is so chaotic that people who shared building wall, now do not hesitate to go for each other’s throat. Distrust and deceit have crept so deep into the minds of the villagers.