The Andhra Pradesh Police on Wednesday arrested at least 80 people for their involvement in the "call money" scam that allegedly involves blackmail, extortion and sexual exploitation of women.

Information Minister Palle Raghunadha Reddy said 27 of the 80 arrested had links with the YSR Congress, six with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and three with the Communist Party of India (CPI). Vijayawada Police Commissioner Gautam Swang said 75 people were arrested alone in Vijayawada.

As many as 123 cases have been registered so far and the police have conducted raids in parts of the Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam, Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam, East Godavari, West Godavari and Kadapa districts. They have seized promissory notes, property documents, cheques and other documents during raids, IANS reported.

The state government has ordered a judicial probe into the racket, that is estimated to be worth over Rs 600 crore.

Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu said the government would set up a commission headed by a retired High Court judge to probe the racket. The dates for commencement of the probe and submission of the report have not been specified as yet.

"We are planning to bring the Money Lending Bill in the Assembly Session (which starts tomorrow). The Cabinet also gave approval. There is a need to go deep into the issue of illegal money lending and related sexual harassment. So the cabinet has decided to appoint a judicial commission which will submit a report to the government," PTI quoted Ramakrishnudu as saying.

"Call money racket"

Call money is a process where a person gets an instant loan by making a phone call to a lender. The lender then comes to the doorstep of the loan-seeker and takes his/her signature on documents.

Under "call money", the interest rate varies from 120% to 200%. Moreover, the lender can demand loan repayment anytime and anywhere. When borrowers fail to repay the loan, they lose their house, vehicles, and other movable and immovable property. 

The police said the lenders resort to threats, extortion and sexual exploitation if the borrowers fail to return the loan with interest.

Unearthing of an alleged sex racket and several complaints helped bust the call money racket last week, after a woman filed a complaint at a police station saying she and her daughter had been forced into the flesh trade, IANS reported.

On Wednesday, three women filed a complaint in Visakhapatnam alleging that money lenders sexually harassed and exploited them for not repaying loans.

Another woman said a lender threatened to kidnap her child if she failed to repay her loan. She said she borrowed Rs1 lakh to start a business, but was asked to pay Rs 3,000 per day as interest.

"Women who are doing small businesses and borrow money to make ends meet, when they can't repay, they are exploited," NDTV quoted a woman as saying.

Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu said strict action WOULD be taken against the accused. He has also asked the district police to invoke THE Nirbhaya Act if there are incidents of sexual exploitation.