Cooperative bank scams: BJP's trump card in Thrissur

Cooperative bank scams: BJP's trump card in Thrissur

The BJP has set up a special unit to rally people affected by scams in some cooperative banks of Thrissur. While the Left downplays charges, the Congress alleges a CPM-BJP pact.

THRISSUR: In the battle for the Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP seems to have found a potent political bomb: cooperative bank scams. And this one may create ripples across Kerala.

Going beyond the infamous Karuvannur Service Cooperative Bank case, the party has been diligently mobilising depositors of other cooperative banks and societies in the area. The party has been organising protests and elevating grievances to higher authorities in a bid to amplify its campaign.

Under the banner of the ‘BJP Sahakarana Cell’, the party has set up a special unit dedicated to shedding light on the shady underbelly of some cooperative institutions. And leading this charge is M V Suresh, a former CPM local committee member and ex-employee of the Karuvannur Service Co-operative Bank.

As the convener of the cell, Suresh has been rallying people struggling to get their deposits released from some cooperative banks in the region. The cell aims to address deposit-related issues, and also hold back officials accused of fund mismanagement accountable.

“There are 75,000 depositors, across five cooperative institutions, who are in distress,” Suresh noted.

“We are spearheading efforts to unite them and advocate for their rights. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured that depositors in Karuvannur will get their hard-earned money back. This assurance has instilled hope among the affected customers.”

Besides Karuvannur, the five cooperative institutions listed by Suresh are Puthur Service Bank Ltd, Parappukkara Panchayat Scheduled Caste Service Society, Thrissur Urban Cooperative Bank, and Kuttanellur Service Cooperative Bank.

Suresh believes the movement to reform the cooperative sector will benefit the BJP-led NDA politically “not just in Thrissur, but across the state”.

“Engaging with the families of 75,000 depositors means reaching out to 2,25,000 voters,” he said.

“It’s crucial to note that these institutions are predominantly associated with either the LDF or the UDF. Their stakeholders tend to lean towards these fronts. If we succeed in convincing them to vote for the NDA, which has pledged to address their concerns and punish the culprits, it will significantly bolster [Thrissur BJP candidate] Suresh Gopi’s prospects.”

However, in response to the allegations, Thrissur CPM secretariat member U P Joseph asserted that the BJP was politicising the issue to undermine the cooperative sector, in which the latter doesn’t have much of an involvement.

“Despite hurdles created by Central agencies, the CPM is actively working to address the issues at the Karuvannur bank and expedite the return of deposits,” he said.

Joseph, who is a state-level CITU leader, highlighted the Left’s significant role in nurturing the cooperative movement in the state. “It is unfortunate that the unethical acts of some certain Left members are tarnishing the whole sector,” he added.

Former Congress MLA Anil Akkara asserted that the situation in Karuvannur was “not merely irregularities but brazen dacoity by the CPM”.

He also alleged collusion between the BJP and CPM to shield the real culprits, pointing out that no major CPM leader had been arrested in the Karuvannur case yet.

“The Karuvannur bank served as a major source of illicit money for CPM leaders. It was not just a case of financial mismanagement,” Anil alleged.

“The Karuvannur scam will have repercussions across the state. However, the investigation into the scam has stalled due to a clandestine pact between the BJP and the CPM.”

He said voters were disillusioned with the NDA and LDF, as neither took concrete actions to address the scandal.

Dismissing Anil’s charge, CPI district secretary K K Valsaraj said the Karuvannur issue would have minimal impact on the elections.

“The LDF has taken efforts to communicate with the affected stakeholders,” he said. “The Karuvannur bank is working to resolve the issues and provide relief to the depositors.”

The Karuvannur trail

  • The financial scam at Karuvannur Service Cooperative Bank in Thrissur came to the limelight when Sreekala E S, the secretary-in-charge of the bank, filed a complaint at the Irinjalakuda Police Station on July 14, 2021. She alleged that the former secretary and employees had swindled about Rs 100 crore from the bank, which had started as an agricultural society in 1921.

  • Notably, on January 16, 2019, a former employee of the bank, M V Suresh, had submitted a written complaint on financial irregularities to the district joint registrar of the state cooperative department. Despite an inquiry being conducted, no significant action was taken based on the report.

  • Considering the magnitude of the fraud, the case was transferred to the Crime Branch on July 21, 2021. Subsequently, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) initiated proceedings under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, on August 2, 2021.

  • The ED has arrested several individuals, including former bank secretary Sunil Kumar T R, Wadakancherry municipal health standing committee chairman and CPM member Aravindakshan P R, and former senior accountant of the bank C K Jils. The Central agency has also questioned CPM minister A C Moideen and former MP P K Biju in the case.

  • The ED uncovered serious lapses in the sanctioning of loans at the bank. It has been revealed that the bank granted loans to non-members by issuing membership applications based on fake addresses, without securing adequate collateral and necessary documentation.

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