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Curious case of CBI's chit fund FIRs in Bengal

New Delhi: After the massive Ponzi schemes by Saradha Group and Rose Valley were unearthed, with much hue and cry about how they were allowed to keep collecting funds from the public despite multiple red flags, the Supreme Court of India, had in a landmark judgement ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over and investigate all chit fund and Ponzi scheme cases registered at all police stations in West Bengal and Odisha. This order from the top court had come in May 2014.

While the CBI then went on a rampage taking over chit fund cases from these two states following this direction, a detailed perusal of publicly available FIRs of the central agency shows that from 2016 November onwards, the CBI has registered chit fund FIRs only by taking over complaints filed at police stations in West Bengal as far as compliance with this court order is concerned.

In fact, in June this year, the agency has registered 15 chit fund cases by taking over complaints filed at different police stations in Bengal. Interestingly, the agency has registered a total of 16 FIRs in Kolkata this year, of which only one is not in relation to a chit fund case.

What gives significance to the CBI's enthusiasm in filing chit fund cases in Bengal this year is the fact that in 2019, the agency had registered only one such case.

A noteworthy fact is that all FIRs registered in compliance with the Supreme Court order are based on complaints up to May 9, 2014, i.e. the date of the order as per directions of the top court; leading to more curiosity about what took the agency so long to take over cases that were already filed with local police stations as early 2012 and

2013. A similar perusal of all of the agency's public FIRs shows that in 2019, the agency had registered a total of 12 cases in its Kolkata branches, of which only one was chit fund

related. The year before, the agency had registered 51 cases in its Kolkata branches, of which 24 were related to different Ponzi schemes. The number of chit fund cases in 2017 was the same but the agency's Kolkata branches had registered a significantly higher number of cases (71).

The seeming decline in the number of CBI cases in Kolkata may be attributed to the fact that the state had withdrawn general consent to the agency in November 2018, following which in 2019, the CBI registered only 12 cases in total at its Bengal

branches. With general consent withdrawn, the agency cannot probe any case in the state unless it is granted permission by the state government or is directed by a court to do so.

Curiously, while the Supreme Court order had directed the central agency to take over all chit fund related cases lodged at police stations across both Bengal and Odisha, since November of 2016, not a single chit fund case registered in compliance of this court order was registered based on a complaint filed at a police station in Odisha. Of course, it is to be mentioned that many of the chit fund cases registered have victims in Bengal, Odisha and Assam.

However, as far as the CBI's 64 chit fund cases since November 2016 in this regard go, except for six, all accused companies and persons were allegedly running their Ponzi schemes from West Bengal. The six exceptions were registered in 2018 and pertained to chit fund companies in Tripura, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

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