“Where is the Money?”
That is the rallying cry of band of men, who have been holding protests and demonstrations for the past four years in many parts of north India to seek answers, and get their money back.
Each of them had invested in PACL (Pearls Agrotech Corp Ltd) started in 1996 by Punjab-based Nirmal Singh Bhangoo. They are some of the 6 crore investors, mostly in north India, having invested a few thousand to hundreds of lakhs of rupees in the company.
In 2014, the Securities & Exchange Board of India (Sebi) declared PACL a ponzi scheme with investigations ordered into its dealings and its owner Bhangoo tossed into jail (or hospital he visits often).
“But how did political leaders from all parties meet and host him down all these years?” demands Amit Garg, an advocate, investor and passionate coordinator of the campaign.
(Advocate Amit Garg)
He shows a glossy booklet that the investors have published collating information about the Pearls Group and their own agitation. It shows Mr. Bhangoo rubbing shoulders with key political leaders, as well glowing endorsements from a spectrum of government agencies.
“How was the company allowed to operate so successfully for so many years?” thunders Ravi Shanker Gautum on the mike.
(Ravi Shankar Gautum addressing the rally)
Bhangoo’s assets have been seized, some auctioned and sold, but investors haven’t received much relief. To return investors’ money, Sebi had also set up a committee headed by former Chief Justice of India R M Lodha following a Supreme Court order to refund investor money in 2014. Despite some activities undertaken, this hasn’t really happened.
“I invested about Rs. 7 lakh,” sighs a visibly tired Paramjit Singh from Hoshiarpur, “But no one has got in touch for refund.”
(Paramjit Singh, Hoshiarpur)
Finally, Mahindrapal Singh, another PACL investor undertook a fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar itself. On the 11th day the group got a response: a police van arrived and policeman forcefully took Singh to hospital where he was fed intravenously.
“A clear message,” says Garg bitterly, “that we can be ignored till our voices die, but a death here would be inconvenient for the government.”