By Saibal Sen, TNN | Apr 19, 2013, 01.31 AM IST
KOLKATA: The chit-fund mess threatens to blow up in the face of Trinamool Congress even as it battles public outrage over the murder of a police officer in Garden Reach and the vandalism of Presidency University. Four FIRs have been filed against Sudipta Sen, chairman and MD of theSaradha Group, which proudly flauntedTrinamoolRajyaSabha MP KunalGhosh as its Group Media CEO.
Ghosh couldn't be reached over phone and Sen has been missing ever since Saradha Printing and Publishing Pvt Ltd issued closure notices on its newspapers and infotainment channels (including Tara Muzik, Tara News, Channel 10, Bengal Post, Seven Sisters Post and Bengali daily Sakalbela), rendering over a thousand jobless on the eve of Poila Boisakh.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday that all efforts are on to arrest Sen. "He is somewhere in north India," Mamata said at Writers' Buildings, sparking speculation that he may have already been detained. Two of the FIRs against Sen were filed in Kolkata and one each in Agartala and Guwahati. There is also a court complaint against him by advertising firm Selvel.
Trinamool general secretary Mukul Roy is desperately trying to find private financiers for the closed Saradha Group media businesses. Failure is not an option for Roy because the chit fund row may do more damage to Trinamool than the outrage over the Presidency vandalism that has pushed the party on the back foot. The party is also in the spotlight because all the Saradha Group news channels and dailies had a distinct pro-Trinamool stand.
Media was only a part of Sen's flourishing empire, some of them allegedly relating to chit funds and multi-level marketing involving thousands of marketing agents and lakhs of depositors. The agents, facing heat back home, have been trooping to Trinamool Bhawan. Nearly 200 of them landed up announced on Wednesday evening, leaving party leaders scrambling. After a noisy demonstration, a few of them were allowed to meet Roy and industries minister Partha Chatterjee. With the company failing to meet its promised returns, the number of FIRs can shoot through the roof.
The Trinamool is rattled — it cannot afford another public outcry less than four days before Parliament resumes. It has launched a desperate firefight. Tara's general manager ( finance) Indrajit Roy told TOI from Delhi, "The plans to resurrect the (closed) companies are being guided by the chief minister and MP Mukul Roy. The problem is that Sudipta Sen cannot be reached. Unless he signs on the dotted line, nothing can happen."
There was a buzz all day that police in Dehradun and Salt Lake have taken action against Sen and a senior vice-president of the group but this could not be confirmed. Uttarakhand DGP Satyavrat Bansal told TOI, "I confirm that no one by the name of Sudipta Sen has been arrested or detained in Dehradun or elsewhere in the state." There were reports that a complaint had been filed against Ghosh, too, but Bidhannagar police commissioner Rajeev Kumar denied this.
The employees of Tara TV Network got a mail on April 15 that their services had been terminated. The employees of Tara, a 13-year-old company, decided to go public with their protests. There was no further intimation from the management but for Ghosh's sporadic social media posts, through which he informed about his resignation from the group and the takeover of Channel 10 by Rice Group (an education and infotech company). Another of his posts said that Sakalbela, too, will have a new buyer but details were not available. It is widely believed a similar proposition is being worked out for Tara as well. For Bengal Post, though, there is no such information.
The out-of-job Bengal Post employees are likely to file a police complaint on Friday against their employer for non-payment of provident fund and income-tax dues.
Sen has sent an undated three-page letter to the marketing members and leaders of SaradhaRealty India Ltd blaming "employees of the media house". "The biggest blunder I have done is to enter the media business where the maximum fund has been diverted to run media houses," says Sen in the letter, adding that he had a "different vision for the establishment of media" and to be "guaranteed protector for the marketing members". "During the last five years, except for a few marketing leaders, no one cautioned me against entering the media house. When I tried to shut down the media houses, the employees of the media houses started to hackle (sic) me like anything. They have damaged the reputation of the company, my personal reputation, my social prestige etc. They have not shown any sympathetic attitude towards the core management though from the beginning they were given solid pay package and all other logistic facilities," he writes.
Sen also blames a new software system for the financial mess, saying it allowed anyone with the company user ID to print receipts from anywhere.