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Different Central agencies probing the different financial scams in West Bengal have witnessed a unique timing pattern in such scams since 2011, when the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress came to power in the state ending the 34-year Left Front rule.

The period from 2011 till the end of 2012 was the peak time for the activities of chit fund entities like Saradha, Rose Valley and others. The chit fund bubble burst at the end of 2012 and because of the combined pressure of different Central agencies, the ponzi activities totally dried up by the beginning of 2014.

Besides the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), other agencies like the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) and the investigation arm of the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs also became active in the matter. The combined pressure of these four agencies forced the ponzi entities to go underground by closing down several offices and deactivating their agents’ network.

Soon after the chit fund entities starting vanishing, the agencies started the process of tracking the other financial scams like the teachers’ recruitment irregularities, cattle smuggling and coal smuggling. Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders have described this series of enquiries as a ploy of the Union government and the BJP to ‘fix’ their leaders.

“Why was the Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, who was named by the CBI in the Narada video scandal when he was with the Trinamool Congress, later spared and not even questioned once in the matter? Why did the CBI, which is also probing the Saradha chit fund, not question Adhikari, even though Saradha chief Sudipta Sen described him as a beneficiary more than once?” questioned senior TMC MLA Tapas Roy.

Adhikari has his own explanation as he claimed that Abhishek Banerjee was the mastermind behind the Narada sting operations to frame a section of the TMC leaders including him. “Since his entry into politics, Abhishek had been considering me as his greatest rival towards his growth path in the TMC. As for Sudipta Sen’s allegations, it is clear that he is making such allegations because of pressure from the TMC and the police,” Adhikari said.

TMC MP Santanu Sen questioned the slow pace of enquiry by the Central agencies and expressed apprehensions that this slow pace is a ploy to keep the investigation process alive, so that it can be used to harass opposition leaders at opportune moments.

“As regards the teachers’ recruitment irregularities, our party’s stand is clear. Let the investigation reveal the identities of the real culprits, who get booked irrespective of political affiliation. But the central agencies should complete the investigation process fast and should not drag it for an indefinite period as they have done in the case of chit funds and Narada scams,” he said.

Countering it, BJP state spokesman Samik Bhattacharya said the BJP is always at the receiving end over the Central agencies probe. “When the agencies accelerate its pace of investigation, TMC claims that they are being driven by BJP. When the pace of investigation slows down for some reason, Congress and CPM claim that it is because of the arrangement between TMC and BJP. Whereas the investigation agencies have their own pattern of investigation and BJP never interferes in that,” he explained.

According to retired senior police officer Nazrul Islam, the timing pattern in the evolvement of different scams in the state seems logical. “Between 2011 and 2014, it was the training period to learn the nitty-gritty of corruption and hence during that period the commissions and protection money from the chit fund entities were the sole sources of political funding in the state and needless to say the ruling party was the principal beneficiary on this count.

“Now naturally as the source of political funds from the ponzi entities dried out, the leaders had to search for alternative sources for flow of funds. Thereafter evolved scams like teachers’ recruitment irregularities, cattle smuggling and coal smuggling, one after the other during the period between 2014 and 2018.

“Now, in this time bracket, 2014 marked the beginning of the ponzi menace and the beginning of other scams, while 2018 was the year when such scams came to the notice of the media and central agencies, who became active,” Islam pointed out.

However, he too expressed displeasure over the slow pace of investigation by the Central agencies. “Often slow pace of investigation prompts people to raise questions about the seriousness of the investigation and credibility of the investigating agency,” he said.

According to senior counsel of the Calcutta High Court, Kaushik Gupta, the pattern of crime always changes with the change in times and change in the ground-level situation.

“There are two options for an individual indulging in fraudulent activities in case the area of irregularities that he or she is operating comes under the scanner of the law enforcement agencies. Either he or she can totally move away from the path of irregularities or can adopt an alternative area of irregularity which is yet to come under the scanner.

“In West Bengal exactly that has happened. The area of irregularity has changed or rather has become diversified over the years. But ultimately irregular activities are bound to leave legal loopholes and traces behind, which ultimately throw light on corruption. That has happened in the case of the teachers’ recruitment irregularities, cattle smuggling and coal smuggling,” he said.

He added that in case of the teacher’s recruitment scam, the loopholes were so blatant that some deprived eligible candidates could identify them, move the court and helped the judicial system to reveal the bigger conspiracy.

As regards the WBSSC scam, he said, the order for Central agency probes was first given by a single-judge Bench of the Calcutta High Court and subsequently upheld by a Division Bench. “So logically and from the legal angle, the contention of politically motivated CBI enquiry really does not stand at least in this case,” Gupta said.

According to political analyst Rajagopal Dhar Chakraborty, although complaints of corrupt practices erupted from time to time during the 34-year Left Front rule, but its frequency was much less than what it has been during the last 11 years of the TMC regime.

“I agree that the pace of investigation that the Central agencies have shown in case of the WBSSC scam is much faster than what it had been in other cases especially the Narada and chit fund scams. But you must not forget that the probe in the WBSSC scam is a court-monitored investigation, where there is always judicial pressure on the probe officials to show quick results,” he added.

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Kejriwal unveils ‘Guarantee’ for LS Polls: AAP’s pledge for change



On “Kejriwal ki Guarantee”, he said 24X7 power supply, good education and health facilities, and arranging two crore jobs for youths every year are part of it.

Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal declared “Kejriwal ki Guarantee” on Sunday, outlining 10 urgent initiatives to be pursued swiftly, including the liberation of Indian territory from Chinese control, should the INDIA bloc come to power at the Centre. This opposition alliance, comprising parties like AAP, Congress, Trinamool Congress, and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, was established to challenge the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the Lok Sabha elections.

A day after his release from jail on interim bail, Kejriwal on Saturday said the INDIA bloc will form the next government and his AAP will be part of it. Addressing a press conference on Sunday, the AAP leader said people will have to choose between “Modi ki Guarantee” and “Kejriwal ki guarantee”. The latter is a “brand”, Kejriwal said.

On the announcement of his guarantees, Kejriwal said, “I have not discussed with my INDIA bloc partners about this. I will press upon my INDIA bloc partners to fulfill these guarantees.”

Kejriwal said while the AAP has fulfilled its “guarantees” of free power, good schools, and Mohalla Clinics in Delhi, “(Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has not fulfilled his guarantees”.

On “Kejriwal ki Guarantee”, he said 24X7 power supply, good education and health facilities, and arranging two crore jobs for youths every year are part of it.

“We worked on management to ensure 24×7 power supply in Punjab and Delhi. We can do it in the entire country. The government schools in the country are in a bad shape. We will arrange good quality education across the country. We know how to do it,” he said.

Kejriwal also promised to end the Agniveer scheme and ensure that farmers get MSP for their crops as per the Swaminathan Commission’s report. “Rashtra Sarvopari is our guarantee. China has occupied our land and we will free it from their occupation,” he said. Kejriwal also promised to provide full statehood to Delhi.

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Macro & financial stability, boost to infra, extended PLI likely key areas in Modi 3.0



If one were to go by the Central Government’s poll manifesto which has stayed aligned to the pre-poll interim Budget, a strong adherence to the path of macro and financial stability as priorities, marked by low inflation, strong external balances, high growth, and fiscal prudence, appears to be the likely scenario if it comes back to power. A DBS Group research by Radhika Rao, senior economist, DBS Group Research and Taimur Baig, MD and Chief Economist, DBS Group Research indicates that the government will continue with the infrastructure push, policies to expand the manufacturing sector, and establish the country’s position as a voice of the Global South.

On the first, the focus will be on improving physical and digital infrastructure, marked by new metro networks, new railway tracks, new-age trains, improved connectivity, new bullet trains, roads, and energy infrastructure. Concurrently, besides expanding the 5G network, improving rural broadband connectivity, exploring 6G technology and the digitization of land records, amongst others, were highlighted in the to-do lists, as per Rao and Baig.

Secondly, Make-in-India and PLI schemes are likely to be expanded, with an emphasis on employment creation, simplification of regulatory processes, appropriate infra for manufacturing hubs, and R&D. A mix of traditional and new-age sectors will likely be prioritized, including a globally competitive food-processing industry, and core sectors (steel, cement, metals, engineering etc), besides a push towards indigenous defense manufacturing, pharma, new age & chip manufacturing, auto and electric vehicles, amongst others.

Existing social welfare programs are likely to be enhanced with better outreach, including, a middle-class focus through the provision of high-value jobs, quality healthcare and infra to improve ease of living, amongst others. Also on the radar is affordable housing program expansion with a focus on slum redevelopment, sustainable cities, etc. The PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana is to be a priority, which will continue to provide free foodgrain ration to about 800 mn residents. On healthcare, Rao and Baig see continuity to provide quality free health treatment to up to 500,000 poor families under Ayushman Bharat.

The economists are also of the view that the PM Ujjwala Yojana, which has already benefited 100 mn with cooking gas connections, will be expanded. Subsidies for solar panels on roofs of 10 mn households up to 300 units/month under the PM Surya Ghar Muft Bijli Yojana, unorganized workers, farmers and continuation of financial assistance to farmers under PM Kisan, farm self-sufficiency, etc.), start-ups and micro-credit enterprises, will be the other focus areas to boost the economy from a bottom-up approach.

Rao and Baig foresee limited fiscal implications from these announcements as part of these were included in the interim budget and the manifesto did not outline any new big-bang reforms or fresh social welfare spending programs. “We maintain our FY25 fiscal deficit assumption at -5.1% of GDP with the existing borrowing program,” says the economists.

A broad-based push towards more contentious structural reforms (land, labor, farming, etc.) did not receive a mention in the manifesto, which may still be prioritized if the party returns for a third term. In our view, the incoming government is neither limited by nor will be restricted by the poll promises. To that extent, the scope of reforms can be wider than what has been laid out in the respective manifestos.

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Govt extends date for submission of R&D proposals



The Government has extended the deadline for submission of proposals related to R&D scheme under the National Green Hydrogen Mission. The R&D scheme seeks to make the production, storage, transportation and utilisation of green hydrogen more affordable. It also aims to improve the efficiency, safety and reliability of the relevant processes and technologies involved in the green hydrogen value chain. Subsequent to the issue of the guidelines, the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy issued a call for proposals on 16 March, 2024.

While the Call for Proposals is receiving encouraging response, some stakeholders have requested more time for submission of R&D proposals. In view of such requests and to allow sufficient time to the institutions for submitting good-quality proposals, the Ministry has extended the deadline for submission of proposals to 27th April, 2024.

The scheme also aims to foster partnerships among industry, academia and government in order to establish an innovation ecosystem for green hydrogen technologies. The scheme will also help the scaling up and commercialisation of green hydrogen technologies by providing the necessary policy and regulatory support.

The R&D scheme will be implemented with a total budgetary outlay of Rs 400 crore till the financial year 2025-26. The support under the R&D programme includes all components of the green hydrogen value chain, namely, production, storage, compression, transportation, and utilisation.

The R&D projects supported under the mission will be goal-oriented, time bound, and suitable to be scaled up. In addition to industrial and institutional research, innovative MSMEs and start-ups working on indigenous technology development will also be encouraged under the Scheme.

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India, Brazil, South Africa to press for labour & social issues, sustainability



The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment.

India, on Thursday, joined the G20’s two-day 2nd Employment Working Group (EWG) meeting under the Brazilian Presidency which is all set to address labour, employment and social issues for strong, sustainable, balanced and job-rich growth for all. India is co-chairing the 2nd EWG meeting, along with Brazil and South Africa, and is represented by Sumita Dawra, Secretary, Labour & Employment.

The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment. India has pointed out that the priority areas of the 2nd EWG at Brasilia align with the priority areas and outcomes of previous G20 presidencies including Indian presidency, and commended the continuity in the multi-year agenda to create lasting positive change in the world of work. This not only sustains but also elevates the work initiated by the EWG during the Indian Presidency.

The focus areas for the 2nd EWG meeting are — creating quality employment and promoting decent labour, addressing a just transition amidst digital and energy transformations, leveraging technologies to enhance the quality of life for al and the emphasis on gender equity and promoting diversity in the world of employment for inclusivity, driving innovation and growth. On the first day of the meeting, deliberations were held on the over-arching theme of promotion of gender equality and promoting diversity in the workplace.

The Indian delegation emphasized the need for creating inclusive environments by ensuring equal representation and empowerment for all, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background. To increase female labour force participation, India has enacted occupational safety health and working conditions code, 2020 which entitles women to be employed in all establishments for all types of work with their consent at night time. This provision has already been implemented in underground mines.

In 2017, the Government amended the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which increased the ‘maternity leave with pay protection’ from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for all women working in establishments employing 10 or more workers. This is expected to reduce the motherhood pay gap among the working mothers. To aid migrant workers, India’s innovative policy ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ allows migrants to access their entitled food grains from anywhere in the Public Distribution System network in the country.

A landmark step in fostering inclusion in the workforce is the e-Shram portal, launched to create a national database of unorganized workers, especially migrant and construction workers. This initiative, providing the e-Shram card, enables access to benefits under various social security schemes.

The portal allows an unorganized worker to register himself or herself on the portal on self-declaration basis, under 400 occupations in 30 broad occupation sectors. More than 290 million unorganized workers have been registered on this portal so far.

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India to spend USD 3.7 billion to fence Myanmar border



India plans to spend nearly $3.7 billion to fence its 1,610-km (1,000-mile) porous border with Myanmar within about a decade, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter, to prevent smuggling and other illegal activities. New Delhi said earlier this year it would fence the border and end a decades-old visa-free movement policy with coup-hit Myanmar for border citizens for reasons of national security and to maintain the demographic structure of its northeastern region.

A government committee earlier this month approved the cost for the fencing, which needs to be approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, said the source who declined to be named as they were not authorised to talk to the media. The prime minister’s office and the ministries of home, finance, foreign affairs and information and broadcasting did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Myanmar has so far not commented on India’s fencing plans. Since a military coup in Myanmar in 2021, thousands of civilians and hundreds of troops have fled from there to Indian states where people on both sides share ethnic and familial ties. This has worried New Delhi because of risk of communal tensions spreading to India. Some members of the Indian government have also blamed the porous border for abetting the tense situation in the restive north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, abutting Myanmar.

For nearly a year, Manipur has been engulfed by a civil war-like situation between two ethnic groups, one of which shares lineage with Myanmar’s Chin tribe. The committee of senior Indian officials also agreed to build parallel roads along the fence and 1,700 km (1,050 miles) of feeder roads connecting military bases to the border, the source said.

The fence and the adjoining road will cost nearly 125 million rupees per km, more than double that of the 55 million per km cost for the border fence with Bangladesh built in 2020, the source said, because of the difficult hilly terrain and the use of technology to prevent intrusion and corrosion.

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However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity.

In a press briefing held on Wednesday, Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock unveiled alarming statistics regarding the extent of undetected money laundering and illegal trade transactions plaguing the global banking network. Stock revealed that over 96% of the money transacted through this network remains undetected, with only 2-3% of the estimated USD 2-3 trillion from illegal trade being tracked and returned to victims.

Interpol, working in conjunction with law enforcement agencies and private financial sectors across its 196 member countries, is committed to combating the rising tide of fraud perpetrated by illicit traders. These criminal activities encompass a wide spectrum, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms dealing, and the illicit movement of financial assets.

Stock emphasized the urgent need to establish mechanisms for monitoring transactions within the global banking network. Currently, efforts are underway to engage banking associations worldwide in setting up such a framework. However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity. The lack of real-time information sharing poses a significant obstacle to law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat money laundering and illegal trade.

Stock underscored the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in exacerbating this problem, citing its use in voice cloning and other fraudulent activities. Criminal organizations are leveraging AI technologies to expand their operations and evade detection on a global scale. Stock emphasized the importance of enhanced cooperation between law enforcement agencies and private sector banking groups. Realtime information sharing is crucial in the fight against illegal wealth accumulation.

Drawing inspiration from initiatives such as the “Singapore Anti-Scam Centre,” Stock called for the adoption of similar models in other countries to strengthen the collective response to financial crimes. In conclusion, Stock’s revelations underscore the pressing need for concerted action to combat global financial crimes. Enhanced cooperation between public and private sectors, coupled with innovative strategies for monitoring and combating illicit transactions, is essential to safeguarding the integrity of the global financial system.

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