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Posted at: Dec 25, 2016, 1:51 AM; last updated: Dec 25, 2016, 3:41 PM (IST)THE GREAT PUNJAB CHIT FUND SCAM PART-II

An entire village mortgaged

Chhaajli in Sunam is home to 2,500 families; almost all invested, lost heavily

Finance minister to meet investors

  • Chandigarh: Reacting to The Tribune report, Finance Minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa has called a meeting of the duped investors in Chandigarh on Sunday. He sought to put the ball in thecourt of the Union government, saying the chit fund companies were registered with the Centre. “We banned such companies three years ago. We issued notices alerting the public. At that time, the Crown Chit Fund had just Rs 25 crore in its balance sheet. I asked investors not to invest. I had asked the police to investigate.” Dhindsa said he had asked the police to arrest the accused as early as possible and would initiate measures to help get the money back. “I will take up the matter with the Reserve Bank of India or the Securities Exchange Board of India, who must have taken security from the company for operating.” TNS

Jupinderjit Singh

Tribune News Service

Chhaajli (Sunam), Dec 24

“Sirf photo hi reh gayi ae. Mere papa ni aunge wapis (Just a photograph is left. My father will never return),” says an inconsolable Kamaldeep Kaur, who is slated to get married in February.

She blames herself for the extreme step her father, Harpreet Singh Khalsa, took last week. It was for her marriage that Harpreet Singh was knocking at the doors of Harwinder Singh Kaka and Sarabjit Mistri — agents of the Crown Credit Cooperative Society where he had invested Rs 9.18 lakh with the promise of getting back double the amount. Bankrupt, he sold 4 acres and mortgaged the 3 acres left. Still unable to repay loans, he committed suicide.

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Majority of the residents of Chhaajli village in Sunam have a similar tale to narrate. “This can be anyone of us if the government doesn’t get our money back soon,” says Jai Kumar, spokesperson for the Sangharsh Committee and a junior engineer, who himself had tried to end his life.

Harpreet’s suicide brought to light the scale of the scam. Almost each of the 2,500 families of the village with a population of 13,500 had invested in the companies and lost their land, jewellery and savings in the Rs 10,000-crore scam involving seven companies.

At Harpreet Singh’s house, a number of duped investors, including Dhyan Singh, Sukhdev Singh and Pal Singh, share the same story while fighting tears. They proceed to the village bus stop where the absconding company agents ran their office. The two have been booked for abetment to suicide of Harpreet Singh.

Within no time, a crowd collects — all of them are duped investors. Each has lost his land or house or means of transport. Paul Singh, a young marginal farmer, lost Rs 8 lakh. A youth who identifies himself as Sukha says his family has lost 20 acres. Sarabjit Singh, Naresh Kumar, Chamkaur Singh, Gopal Dass, Gurmeet Singh — the names change, the script does not.

A man who walks with a limp wades through the crowd and identifies himself as former panch Krishan Lal. “The government will not get sufficient wood for the funeral of all of us. We are all on the path of ending our life like Harpreet Singh,” he cautions.

“Almost every family, barring the few agents of chit fund companies, especially Crown, is under debt in this village. Each piece of land is mortgaged, and jewellery pawned on hopes of big returns. When we go to the police, they counter us by saying that we can also be booked,” he says. “What for? For trying to earn more through a registered company with a proper office? Is that a crime?” he asks.

The village sarpanch, Kamaldeep Singh, admits that the “situation in the village is not good”. There would hardly be any family which did not invest in the company, he adds.

“The company agents gave good returns in the initial years but when people made good investments, they vanished. ‘Saada bura haal hai. Har parwaar dukhi hai’ (We are suffering badly. Each family is upset),” he says. “We have taken up the matter with the police also, but they are not helping.”

Villagers point to the houses of Ram Singh Sidhu, Harwinder Singh Kaka and Sarabjit Mistri, the agents of the company who allegedly made huge profits. 

SHO of Chhaajli police station Rakesh Kumar, who took over just 15 days back as part of the election-related reshuffle, says it is true that almost the entire village had invested in the chit fund companies. “I have been recently posted here. People have numerous complaints against the company. Every house seems to have invested.  Even a number of police personnel invested and lost money. We are taking action against those responsible for the farmer’s suicide, we will arrest them soon.”

Chhaajli residents are still hopeful that the government will do something soon, but many are sceptical. 

At deceased Harpreet Singh’s house, his aged mother Dalip Kaur takes a long time to gather herself to utter a few words. “Saada kucch banega?” she asks.

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