By Sandeep Sahu*
I know I am in serious danger of being lynched for what I am going to expound on in this article. But as they say, someone has to ‘bell the cat’ and since no one appears to be willing to break the conspiracy of silence, I am volunteering to do it. If I am to be punished for it, then so be it.
Without prolonging the suspense any further, let me come straight to the point. Why should the Odisha government spend taxpayers’ money to compensate those who lost their earnings/savings in the chit fund scam? More so when it chose to look the other way while the chit fund companies were making hay, despite repeated warnings about their dubious business sounded by central agencies and financial regulators.
In my view, it is contrary to all principles of natural justice to ask the prudent majority of the population, who chose not to fall prey to the enticements of the chit fund companies, to compensate for the sheer folly – or plain greed – of those who did. Why should four crore people of Odisha be made to pay for the indiscretions of the rest 20 lakh? Even if the analogy sounds somewhat bizarre, it is a bit like collecting fines from those who wear helmets while driving and paying those who don’t!
The Naveen Patnaik government has made a provision of Rs 300 crore in the supplementary budget passed in the last Assembly session to compensate the victims of the scam. Is it not a cruel joke considering that even the most conservative estimate suggests the people of the state have been defrauded of at least Rs 10, 000 crores? How many of the nearly 20 lakh who lost their lifetime’s savings in the scam does it expect to compensate with the corpus fund of Rs 300 crore? And what about the rest? What crime did they commit to be deprived of the government’s bounty? Or is it that the government proposes to increase the size of the corpus in future? If that indeed turns out to be the case, will it not amount to perpetuating what is a patently wrong move in the first place? Why should the burden on those who did not fall for the promise of doubling, trebling or quadrupling their income in a couple of years be increased to pay off all those who did?
The argument that those who lost out in the scam were mostly poor, illiterate or semi-literate people innocent of the wicked ways of the chit fund companies simply does not wash. Ignorance, as the wise man has said, is no bliss. To put the example cited above in another context, can one expect to escape paying a fine for not wearing a helmet by claiming s/he does not know it is mandatory under the rules? Besides, where would the genuinely poor, who do not have the money to even open a bank account, get the money from to invest in Ponzi schemes?
Despite the sheer hopelessness of their case, however, I have absolutely no problems with the victims of the chit fund scam being compensated for their loss. My only contention is they should not be compensated with money from the public exchequer. What is the much tom-tommed Odisha Protection of Interests of Depositors Act, 2013 for then? If the government is really concerned so much about the victims, why does not it use the right to confiscate and auction the movable and immovable assets of chit fund companies that the Act gives it? Why is the government (which is actually more to blame than even the chit fund companies for shutting its eyes as the scam was being perpetrated) bent on paying off the victims through a corpus funded out of taxpayers’ money instead of using the Act for the purpose? Is it because it is much easier to play the benevolent god with public money than to go through the cumbersome process of locating, seizing and auctioning the assets of chit fund companies? Or is it because much of the assets has actually gone to the leading lights of the ruling party?
[The last question brings us to the issue of the money spent from the public exchequer on preventing a CBI inquiry into the case. Whose interests was the Naveen government protecting – the interests of the depositors or those of the fraudsters – in doing so?]
The squandering away of public money by the Naveen Patnaik government to hide its own complicity in the whole affair, in my view, is a fit case for a PIL to be filed in the High Court or the Supreme Court, though I doubt whether anybody would have the courage to do so. After all, it is highly politically incorrect these days to be seen to be against the victims of the chit fund scam in these surcharged times.
If I have chosen to plough a lonely furrow, it is because I believe that the Naveen government is making the four crore plus people pay for its own criminal negligence. This is plain wrong. Compensate the victims by all means, but not through a corpus fund. If the Chief Minister’s heart really bleeds for the victims, let him announce that no minister – including himself – in his government would take any remuneration or allowances, spend on air travel, fuel and the general pomp associated with ministership in our country for the rest of its term and use the money thus saved to compensate those who lost in the chit fund scam under its watch. That – and that alone – would convince me about its ‘noble’ intention.
* The author is the Executive Editor of odishasuntimes.com