A team from the Central Bureau of Investigation arrived in Tripura’s capital Agartala on Wednesday to question a minister of the state government in connection with the Rose Valley group chit fund scam. Bijita Nath, the minister for social welfare and science, environment and technology, will be interrogated on Thursday, the central investigating agency said in a notice sent to her.
Kolkata company Rose Valley Hotels and Entertainments Limited has been accused of running a Ponzi scam and cheating investors of more than Rs 17,000 crores across the eastern states of Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Bihar, in one of the biggest chit fund scams in India. The case has seen many high-profile arrests, including that of two MPs from West Bengal – Tapas Pal and Sudip Bandyopadhyay from the state’s ruling party, the Trinamool Congress.
As Tripura goes to poll early next year, analysts said the CBI’s interrogation of a key minister of Tripura’s Left Front government could have far-reaching implications.
Political analyst Tapas Dey from Agartala said considering its timing, the move seemed to be aimed at sending a signal. He added, “The Left is definitely worried, but how much it will hurt them, one can only say after tomorrow.”
Bijan Dhar, general secretary of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), however, downplayed the development. “We are very open to any kind of scrutiny,” he said. “The CBI can question anyone they want to. There is nothing to hide.” He said the Tripura government had voluntarily referred 37 cases relating to the scam to the CBI. “They however, took up only five cases,” he said. “The rest are being investigated by a special investigation team under the guidance of the Agartala High Court.”
Dhar said that while the government would cooperate with the CBI’s investigations, he suspected “some involvement of the central government in disturbing the peace and tranquility in Tripura”.
‘Just the beginning’
The Bharatiya Janata Party in Tripura has risen from a non-entity to chief Opposition party in the last four years, where the Left-front has enjoyed absolute majority since 1993. In the last month, as the polls near, there have been violent clashes between Left cadres and BJP workers in the state. The BJP, who has repeatedly accused the Left cadres of attacking its leaders, even asked the Centre to impose the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Tripura in response to the recent clashes.
Meanwhile, the BJP rubbished allegations of the CBI being used by the Centre to intimidate the Left Front government ahead of the elections. “The Left Front let the scam happen,” said the party’s spokesperson Mrinal Kanti Deb. “The Chief Minister Manik Sarkar inaugurated an amusement park developed by the company, where he even praised the company. When the scam came to light, he claimed on the floor of the house that he didn’t even know that Rose Valley was a chit fund company. Is that even possible?”
Deb said the BJP just wanted justice for the people who had been cheated by Rose Valley Hotel and Environment Limited. “If and when we form the government in Tripura, we will work out a mechanism to compensate the 14 lakh people cheated by the company,” he said. Deb said he was confident the CBI would question more leaders of the Left Front government soon. “This is just the beginning,” Deb said. “Many more names will come up very soon. Nobody will be spared .”
The Opposition Trinamool Congress in Tripura too backed the action against Nath. Party leader Sudip Roy Barman accused minister Nath of being an “agent” of Rose Valley. “In a public meeting, she endorsed the company, and called it trustworthy,” he alleged. “The fact that the chief minister inaugurated the company’s amusement park in Agartala proves that the entire government is hands-in-glove with Rose Valley.”
Nath wasn’t available for comment. However, a journalist in Agartala working a leading English daily in Tripura confirmed that she had indeed endorsed the company in one of her public meetings, even encouraging people to invest in it. “However, there doesn’t seem to be any proof of her being on the pay-rolls of the company, as the Opposition parties allege,” said the journalist, who did not want to be identified. The CBI declined comment.