The venue: Kshudiram Anushilan Kendra. The occasion: distribution of cheques by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to 929 investors who have been duped after parking their money in the ponzi schemes of the scam-tainted Saradha Group.
It was Banerj'e's way of tackling any fallout of the scam, which came as the biggest challenge for her regime as it was perceived to be close to the Saradha boss Sudipta Sen.
Banerjee, who had earlier promised to compensate the depositors - mostly poor people in villages and small towns - decided to celebrate the occasion by organising the grand feast.
With the scandal having broken out shortly before the statewide rural polls, she had earlier formed a commission to probe the scam and recommend ways to return the money to the depositors and also announced a Rs.500 crore fund for the purpose.
Her steps at damage control seemed to have paid off, and the Trinamool came up with an impressive show in the July panchayat elections.
The well-publicised and lavishly organised programme inclusive of the sumptuous food is being regarded by observers as a continuation of her efforts to give a message to the duped investors that the government was by their side.
The beneficiaries of the day had deposited up to Rs.10,000 in the schemes, till the company went bust and closed shop across the state unable to repay the investors who had been lured by the promise of high returns.
Lakhs of people, mainly poor people in villages and small towns, have been affected by the Saradha scam. There has been a spate of suicides by investors and agents.
The government machinery kept no stone unturned to showcase the occasion and ensure its success.
Twenty cooks were engaged to prepare the food, while the beneficiaries were brought from all over the state at government cost.
"We were taken in a government vehicle to the local police station. There were were provided a good tiffin and given the bus fare. We took a bus and came to the venue in Kolka"a," said a beneficiary from Darjeeling district.
Official sources said the concerned district administrations were made responsible for bringing the beneficiaries for the programme and taking them back home.
From breakfast to lunch, evening tiffin and dinner and night stay - all arrangements were made.
The Murshidabad district administration, for instance, had sent vehicles to the Samserganj home of beneficiary Motiur Rahman."
"We spent a night at a panchayat training centre on the way. We were given a grand dinner there - rice, dal (lentils), fish curry, mixed vegetable, potato fry, chutney, papad and swe"ts," said Rahman.
Arrangements for around 3,000 people (including support staff) were made at the Kshudiram Anushilan Kendra, as the government spent lakhs of rupees to ensure the scam did not make any impact on the ruling p'rty's vote bank in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
A depositor seemed amaz"d. "I got back a part of the amount I had invested with the Saradha Group. But the money spent on the lavish arrangements could have been better utilised to give me back the entire am"unt".
The opposition Left Front lost no time in attacking the government for "he "money squand"red"."
"The government says it is deep in debt and has no money for development programmes. But at the same time it is squandering the tax p'yers' money to indemnify the investors who had been duped by the Saradha Group. What is worse is the lavish arrangements. They should have attached Sudipt' Sen's property and repaid the victims fro" it," said Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra.
Undaunted, the government has anoounced it would indemnify 104,000 more depositors before the Durga Puja (beginning Oct 10). Two lakh more investors would get their money back after Diwali (Nov 2).
The government has set aside Rs.50 crore for indemnifying the depositors upto Diwali.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 05-10-2013)