The Saradha scam is snowballing with each passing day. Soon after the Ponzi boss, Sudipta Sen, was caught by the police, political camps have started their usual blame game. The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), which received a setback after Sen shot a 18-page letter to the CBI naming a few of its members involved in the scam, has now released a letter written by a Congress MP from West Bengal who allegedly tried to shield the controversial Saradha Group besides questioning the role of the wife of a senior Congress leader in the scam.
The Saradha scheme is not just a financial and political scam but also a social one. There is clearly no point in accusing Sen alone for the debacle. The media, national or local, has engaged itself in the familiar witch-hunting but it's clear that none has succeeded in digging into the minute details to uncover the scam. If the police have failed to trace the millionaire's money, it is because authorities are seeing things in a over-simplistic manner.
There is no doubt that Sudipta Sen has duped people. He can not ignore the responsibility for he owed the empire that collapsed. But this doesn't explain the entire episode. This writer had worked in the Kolkata-based English daily, The Bengal Post, owned by the group's media establishment and he had observed certain things which indicate that Sen was not the only one responsible for the collapse, particularly on the media front, which according to Sen was primarily responsible for his downfall.
One, what was the basis of recruiting employees in the media houses? During my days in The Bengal Post, I had seen people who never deserved to be in a newspaper house and yet did not bother to ruin the hard work of others. Contacts worked in favour of undeserving candidates to enter the house and take a fat amount home with virtually zero productivity. Some even did not know how to give a story headline and yet were journalists. This was the pattern in some other newspapers of the house as well.
It was also alleged that some top designation-holders used the company's vehicles for personal outings. Why wasn't there a proper mechanism to recruit people and ensure an accountability for their conduct? It didn't take much time for economics to show its ugly face.
Two, why was there no commitment on behalf of the management towards the employees? The agreement letters that were given to the employees were unbelievably erroneous and even though facilities like reimbursements for mobile phone bills and medical expenses were promised, nothing of that sort had ever seen the light of the day.
It is not possible for Sen to see these minute details but whoever was in charge, why was there no accountability? I had seen people of the transport desk misbehaving with senior reporters and showing reluctance to arrange for cars for crucial assignments. Why these sorts of callousness went unnoticed?
There was no salary account, salaries came in post-dated cheques for many and nobody had any clue about the Form-16. People also had to toil hard to know the whereabouts of their provident funds. There was no increment for the foot-soldiers (except a peanut hike after putting pressure) while reporters and photographers based in the upcountry locations didn't get their dues often. But some of the top bosses continued to take fat cheques home. Was Sen only responsible for this or was it a network of opportunists at play behind him?
Three, it was said in the beginning that the Saradha Media Group would have a library of its own. The infrastructure was also being set up. But then nothing happened. Why? One day, we had seen a pile of dictionaries lying on the tables and sources said they would be provided to the employees. The next day, only one dictionary was seen lying on our coordinating editor's table. There were also allegations about misusing company's funds meant for setting up in-house infrastructure. If this is true, did Sen ever come to know about it?
The company started to provide free lunch and dinner for the media employees. But soon it was found that people started eating too much. One of the editors (The Bengal Post had three editors in less than three years) had said that the company started a coupon system while providing tea because the bill for tea in the preceding month was Rs 80 lakh! Hence, the provision of tea per employee was reduced to two cups.
It was said that people were even taking food for their family at home and the tea was being supplied without a control. Soon, a curb was imposed on the free food. The usage of paper for print-outs had no cap and one day, the coordinating editor was heard saying: "If so much paper is wasted, it won't take long for the company to shut." The Saradha authorities clearly had failed to plug the leaks.
Four, the mismanagement was evident when the desk employees were to return home. The transport desk was a sham and often it was seen that people took vehicles according to their own choice of timing. One day, I had to drop a woman colleague at her home after the office car left without any information. Who was responsible for such carelessness? Sudipta Sen himself couldn't stand on the road and monitor the proceedings. The vehicle drivers were heard saying that they couldn't go to the petrol pumps because large payments were due. Why was this happening? Soon, there arose a crisis as the number of vehicles to drop the employees home got reduced drastically.
People are accusing politicians for the scam, which is not without a basis. But the bigger question is: How many people really committed themselves for the cause of the media, which was funded by Sen? People received pays more than they perhaps deserved and didn't bother to ensure that the resources were channelised properly and now all guns are aimed at Sen. If each of the media houses was treating Sen's money as free-for-all, then it isn't surprising that the money vanished in a flash.
Will the law agencies try to find out whether mismanagement of money through the operation of the media houses was a biggest reason for this massive scam?
There was a once competition of sort among people from other media houses in the state to enter the Saradha Group then to pocket huge salaries. And now, when the house has collapsed, there is no shortage of people in the rival houses to take a moral high ground. No doubt Sudipta Sens emerge from such social set-up.