Mamata’s PONZI

It is unlikely that the journalists will get any part of their due salaries, and it is doubtful the lakhs of depositors who lost money will be compensated. Mamata’s claims are like that of Sudipta Sen and her MP, Kunal Ghosh

Rajesh Sinha Delhi 

April 15, Monday, was a day we in the Delhi bureau of the Kolkata-based The Bengal Post had been waiting for with rising expectations, anger and frustration. We had not received salaries for three months and the newspaper owner, Saradha group CMD Sudipta Sen, had promised we would be paid on that day. Just the previous Friday, in response to my last call to him, he had said, “Haven’t I told you, I will definitely pay on April 15?”

I told him I would call him again that day. I called. There was no response from any of the three mobile numbers. Colleagues in the Kolkata office also could not contact or locate him. What they had was an email from Sen, dated April 14, announcing the shutdown of the media wing of the Saradha group, once again promising to pay the overdue salaries in staggered instalments over the next five months.

We knew we had been duped. This was yet another promise he would not honour. In one stroke, we were rendered jobless, moneyless, without the hope of getting the money we had earned. We had run out of money. The landlords were after us, the banks were pestering us, children’s annual school fees were due and we had to file income tax returns without an income for months and with no Form 16. The chartered accountant (CA) who managed to file my tax returns on the basis of the bank’s statement of account told me the organization had not deposited the tax deducted from my salary and that the income tax department would get after me. The provident fund (PF) amount, after three years of working, was about Rs 20,000 and the PF contributions had been way below the statutory requirement. Even this buffer for needy times was gone.

The delays in salary payments had led to several cheques and EMIs bouncing and the first thing the bank did when a cheque bounced was to charge a penalty. It ran into thousands of rupees. We had complained but there was no response. 

Soon after we had joined in June 2010, we found that the organization was unlike any I had worked for in three decades of my journalistic career. The salaries were okay (though nothing compared to what some seniors were getting in Kolkata and nowhere close to [TMC MP and CEO] Kunal Ghosh’s, whose monthly salary could take care of our entire bureau’s salaries for six months). The brief was exciting. We had complete freedom, the only thing required was focusing on hard news — as bureau chief Seema Guha put it: “Just putting the news of the day in context, for the readers to make their own judgment.”

Then we were told we had to go soft on Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress. We, in the Delhi bureau, told Kolkata that we would not touch any story about Mamata or TMC and they could file it themselves or ask Ghosh to write it. That ‘arrangement’ continued till the end. Every little move, decision or gesture of Mamata would be blown up in huge, shamefully — or shamelessly — flattering pieces.

We put up with it since no such demands were made of us. Every news organization has its ‘holy cows’ and political or opportunistic slant; but this group was brazen and uncouth. At a conference of Saradha group employees in April 2012, to which I could not go, my colleagues told me that Ghosh warned everyone to be pro-Mamata and any ‘disloyalty’ would not be tolerated.

Salaries invariably arrived late. Only the CMD could sign cheques — sometimes the cheques would bounce because the signature didn’t match. Often they bounced because of lack of funds. We had to inform Kolkata, send them cheque details and our bank account number. Then the salaries would be transferred electronically.

We were told that the Saradha group ran huge businesses in real estate, hospitality, mining, shipping and had offices abroad. How could it be so unprofessional? After about six months in the organization, we learnt about the chit fund business. But even other chit fund outfits like Sahara or Eenadu, quite unprofessional in many things, were way better.

We never got any increments, salaries remained frozen. The last editor, Gautam Choudhary, knew little about anything. Ghosh ran the show. Now this top journalist claims he did not know about chit fund operations happening under his nose in Kolkata and the rest of West Bengal. We,
sitting in Delhi, knew about it. It was common knowledge.

Our worries began when salaries started coming about once in two months, from October 2012. We never got clear answers. Only ‘CMD saar’, as Saradha employees called Sen, knew and he wasn’t saying. When we managed to dig out his mobile numbers, he lied every time. He was a crook, as much as the TMC leaders
and MPs who used his business to make crores of rupees out of the people of West Bengal.

It is unlikely that we will get any of our lost salaries, and it is doubtful the lakhs who lost money in deposits will be compensated. Mamata’s claims are like Sen’s. And like Ghosh’s.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2013