Thousands of small depositors have been left high and dry this Rongali Bihu with yet another chit fund suddenly closing shop in Assam. Running since 2001, Amar Astha in Jorhat had been going strong before the Saradha collapse put a chill on the entire chit fund scerio. But Amar Astha’s promoters moved fast and got it rechristened as a savings and loan cooperative body to continue mopping up deposits. In a pattern distressingly familiar, most of its members were rickshaw and handcart pullers, hawkers, daily wagers and the like. There are said to be over 10,000 such depositors in Jorhat, Sivasagar and Golaghat districts alone. They have been putting their money into various policies, but since December last, those whose policies had matured were crying in vain for return of their hard-earned money with interest. Many employees and agents of Amar Astha too have been reportedly going without salary for over six months. About a week back, its chief promoter disappeared in Jorhat, triggering suspicions among depositors that he may have decamped with money deposited. Depositors have now found out that as much as Rs 3 crore of their money may never be returned; that large parts of deposits were funneled into other businesses of the chief promoter like a school, pharmacy and cosmetics outlet. This is how shady operators play fast and loose with the money of gullible depositors. The State with its watchdog bodies and enforcement agencies to probe economic offences — does not reach such poor people eking out margil livelihoods below poverty line. Before the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan initiative, the banking sector’s door was virtually closed to such people. Left to their own devices to put aside some part of their hard-earned money for a rainy day, these depositors were easily enticed to put their savings into chit funds promising high interest rates which would triple or quadruple their money in short time. Corrupt sections of the administration and police have allowed these chit funds to function with impunity, obviously after getting paid off for their protection. Around 200 major chit funds were said to have been operating in Assam before the Saradha scam broke, but the number of smaller chit funds is surely many times larger. This continuing mece needs be checked firmly if small depositors are to be meaningfully brought into the fincial inclusion network the government is dreaming about.
Chit fund scam