The state Consumer Affairs department decided to rope in eminent people from North Bengal to create awareness among tea garden workers in a bid to save them from the clutches of chit fund companies.
Complaints received by the department in the past few months made it clear to its senior officials that the chit fund companies have started targeting the daily wage earners from mainly two districts in North Bengal - Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar.
The chit fund companies have moved further North to the two districts after vigil against them was intensified in Siliguri and they had lost ground in South Bengal soon after Saradha Group scam came to light around four years ago.
According to an official of the department, it is easier to convince a daily wage earner to invest in such schemes. Being ignorant of the reality behind the functioning of chit funds, tea garden workers agree to invest whatever small amount they have considering that they would be getting a high return within a short span of time and the situation is quite same with that of the workers in saw mills in the districts.
The chit fund operators are well aware of the days when the tea garden workers get their payments. They approach them right on the evening of the same day. Though the workers pass through various problems due to irregular payment by tea estate owners, agents of the chit fund companies convince them to invest even a small amount like Rs 100 in a particular scheme to get a high return within a year. “The total collection turns to a huge amount even if they get Rs 100 to Rs 250 from each worker,” the official said.
Assessing that creating awareness is the only way of saving people from getting cheated, the state Consumer Affairs department decided to take help of eminent people from the society including school teachers, panchayat members, bank officials and post office employees to create awareness among the group of people in the society who are mostly affected.
The decision to involve these people in the programme has been taken as they get in touch with several people in their everyday life. The department would be organising workshops in the two districts for these people where they will be briefed about the entire project and how they could help the department by saving the tea garden workers from the clutches of chit fund companies.
This is the first time such an initiative has been taken in North Bengal to eradicate the menace of investing money in non-banking financial institutions those operate chit funds.
After attending the workshop, the eminent people will be asked to discuss about the hazards of depositing money in chit funds when they meet some people. They do not have to take any extra effort to create the awareness. Citing example of a teacher, the official said he may discuss about the ill effects to their students during recess or their parents whenever they meet. The message will get spread from one person to another automatically and a large section of people would get benefitted.