Operators of ponzi schemes, popularly known as ‘chit funds’, seem to be stealthily making their way back to the State. Assam has for long been a happy hunting ground for such shady operators, collecting huge funds from gullible depositors with the blessings of political godfathers and support from corrupt sections of the administration, notably the police. Despite the spectacular collapse of Saradha, Rose Valley, Unipay2U, Jeevan Shakti, PURA and many such schemes whose fund magers closed shop overnight and disappeared with the people’s money, little seems to have been learned. People are still trusting such operators with their hard-earned savings, tempted no doubt by hard-selling agents promising high rates of return. There is still little public awareness that such schemes essentially operate by collecting money from new investors to pay off earlier investors, so one day these are bound to collapse. This sad scene was again played out recently in Guwahati when a group called Shubh Shakti Cooperative Society went kaput, with the police maging to lay handcuffs on its kingpin and a few agents. However, this group is already believed to have collected over Rs 22 crore in Guwahati city alone, leaving the depositors high and dry. While the ground situation is much different compared to five years ago, ponzi scheme operators are reportedly still finding it easy to set up shop in the Assam. Back in 2012-13, it was estimated that around 150 to 200 such groups were collecting money across the State, taking advantage of large sections of the population being out of bank coverage. Considering the hassles of opening bank accounts, it was easier for petty traders, farmers and daily wagers to entrust their small savings with chit fund agents known to them. Since 2014 though, firstly, Prime Minister rendra Modi’s Jan Dhan scheme, and secondly in November 2016, his demonetisation move sought to bring most people into the banking fold under ‘less cash’ system. But there are strong indications that a section of depositors is not comfortable to be under the taxman’s gaze through bank surveillance. So they are falling prey to the blandishments of fake chit fund agents, promising not just high returns, but also anonymity and secrecy. What depositors hardly realise is that they are putting themselves totally at the mercy of such operators, who can blackmail them and decamp with their money. Once that happens, defrauded depositors may even hesitate to approach the police. The alarm bells should now start ringing in Dispur to prevent such incidences; the State government cannot absolve itself of responsibility in protecting small depositors. It has to ensure that regulatory bodies are doing their job watching out against such fraudsters.
Ponzi schemes again
No to mobocracy
While clearing the countrywide release of Padmaavat for January 25, the Supreme Court has minced no words against the mobocracy that is putting ‘creative arts to the guillotine’. Having been earlier cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (after several modifications and title change), there is no way Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film can now be banned by States on the ground of ‘law and order’, the apex court has ruled. The governments of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had urged the SC bench ‘to appreciate the ground situation and threat to breach of peace’. After calling it ucceptable that ‘a few hundred people come on the street and create a law and order situation demanding ban’, Chief Justice Dipak Misra told the petitioner States: “We understand your intent. You want us to allow you to ban the film after it is exhibited (on the grounds of breach of peace)”. Sternly ticking off the States on his part, Justice DY Chandrachud observed: “You can’t make a virtue of creating trouble. You can’t first create trouble and then make a virtue of it.” This, in a nutshell, is how mob rule operates with the blessings of political masters. Rabble rousing elements first create a brouhaha over an issue that helps further their agenda while hogging the media’s attention. After employing high decibels to browbeat and stifle ratiol voices on media platforms, these elements turn loose their foot soldiers to create mayhem on the streets. The political class obligingly plays along with this dangerous wink-and-nudge charade. After holding Bhansali ‘responsible’ for the violence unleashed by Karni Se goons near movie theatres, its leaders are now asking the people for “self-imposed curfew” to boycott the movie that purportedly insults Rani Padmavati. From all accounts though, the CBFC went to painstaking lengths to ensure that discrepancies were ironed out, bringing in a special advisory panel to assist the board’s regular examining committee, keeping in view the complexities and concerns around the film. But no expert body or panel’s considered view can stand against ill-motivated people using the mob as a battering ram. After the apex court’s ruling against banning Padmaavat, the Karni Se remains defiant, forcing the police to intervene in its plans to organise jauhar (mass immolation) of women at Chittorgarh, the fictiol city of Queen Padmini. It is now up to the people to critically appreciate Bhansali’s cinematic treatment of the legend of Queen Padmini, which was first brought to life during the 16th century in an epic poem by sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi.