Sudipta Sen, Saradha Realty
KOLKATA: Saradha CEO Sudipta Sen could do what Sajjan Jindal's JSW couldn't. Sen, by his own admission to the Shayamal Sen Commission, acquired 260 acres in prime locations of Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Himachal Pradesh, which is significant for any business group.
Of this land parcel, 171.3 acre is in Bengal alone. While a part of this is registered in the name of Saradha Realty, some are in the name of individual directors. For some, power of attorney has been given to Saradha's employees like Arindam Das alias Bumba — the group's main agent in South 24-Parganas. There is a catch though. The land is in possession of Saradha Group. But none of them has undergone mutation.
Marketing officers of the Saradha Group scouted for these plots, got the agreement executed in most cases by making payments and got the sale deed registered with the finance department. No one in the land department ordered a probe into such purchases. Neither did the government bother to check if the purchased land flouted the land ceiling as provided in section 14 M of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955. The Saradha boss also kept silent on the land purchase till the Ponzi bubble burst.
Under the law, an investor has to declare to the government the amount of land in his possession and seek permission for relaxation of land ceiling under Section 14 Y of the act by giving details of the business project. The government examines the proposal first and if an approval is given, the government vests the ceiling excess land under the investor's possession and then gives it back on a long-term lease.
Sudipta Sen, however, didn't attract the land ceiling clause. Land officials say that it is difficult to track such land transfers unless the new owner comes to them for mutation. Sudipta did not.
But some of the projects in districts have been approved by municipalities with a go-ahead to the construction of cold storage, tourist resorts, villas and even housing spread over the districts. They include 100 bighas (a bigha is one-third acre) in Bishnupur in South 24-Parganas, 74 bighas at Falakata in Alipurduar, 38 bighas at Jagulia in North 24-Parganas, 56 bighas in Cooch Behar, 23 bighas in Murshidabad's Baharampur, 15 bighas in East Midnapore's Contai among others.
It goes without saying that the Saradha boss could not have done this without the government's indulgence.
Most of the fund to the Saradha Realty came as loan from the Saradha Ponzi scheme deposits from thousands of depositors. The Saradha boss went into a realty spree hoping to multiply his initial investment and thus lured many more people to his deposit schemes.
In the process, Saradha's political patrons took away huge amounts of money by submitting vouchers for land filling, supply of materials to the sites to put up a boundary wall or for the ongoing construction work. Trouble began when the cheat cycle broke.
According to sources, Sen frets that law enforcing agencies have attached some of the properties in his name and those in the name of the family members, but not the land assets registered in the name of the Saradha directors. Sen is known to have pleaded with the Shyamal Sen Commission to monetize the land assets and pay the depositors before some others take possession.
However, the Supreme Court wants all the properties locked up till the Saradha scam investigation is over. CBI and ED officials are now tracking each of these properties and trying to ascertain the names in which they have been registered before attaching the properties. They are banking on the Saradha boss to spell out from where the money came and who all helped the Group to acquire the land when the Bengal government is averse to such clandestine land purchase. Sen has told the CBI about two powerful ministers and two Trinamool MPs who used to advise him on his business expansion.