Thursday, April 25, 2013

BANKER’S TRUST REALTIME : Four lessons from Sebi-Sahara spat

What should Sebi do to get to the bottom of Sahara case?
India’s apex court has once again expressed its unhappiness with Subrata Roy’s Sahara India Pariwar, a Lucknow-based conglomerate that has at least 4,100 establishments in its fold and Rs.1.18 trillion in assets spread across real estate, infrastructure, media, hospitality, sports and finance. “You are manipulating courts,” a Supreme Court bench, consisting of judges K.S. Radhakrishnan and J.S. Khehar, said on Monday in reference to the group approaching different forums for relief in a legal battle with the stock market regulator. The bench wanted to know why Sahara was refunding money directly to investors and not routing it through the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), as has been directed by the court.

The group claims that Sahara India Real Estate Corp. Ltd (SIRECL) and Sahara Housing Investment Corp. Ltd (SHICL) have already paid back some Rs.19,000 crore to investors who purchased securities sold by the two firms. Instead of providing a list of people who have received their refunds, the group has been filing appeals in various courts. Sebi wants a few directors of these two companies, including Roy, detained for delaying the refunds.

In August 2012, Radhakrishnan and Khehar asked Sahara to pay back Rs.24,000 crore and directed a retired Supreme Court judge, B.N. Agarwal, to oversee the process. Since then, Sebi has been struggling to get the investors’ money back.

What should it do to get to the bottom of the case which, according to Sebi counsel Arvind Datar, keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser”?

First, it can ask Sahara to provide the list of the top 1% or 5% of investors in the bonds sold by SIRECL and SHICL. Typically, the top 1-5% “creamy layer” of investors account for 20-25% of the money invested. This will make life easier for Sebi and also Sahara as it won’t have to send truckloads of documents to the regulator.

Second, Sebi can also look at the concentration of the investor base. If it can locate five geographical pockets, it would become easier to get a fix on the investors as Nandan Nilekani’s Aadhaar unique identity number project can do the rest of the job.

Finally, Sebi could ask Roy from which banks he withdrew the money to pay investors. He may have been paying cash but certainly he cannot keep Rs.19,000 crore in gunny bags at home or in the Sahara offices. In other words, had he indeed paid Rs.19,000 crore to the bond investors, he would have withdrawn that money from the banking system.

Sebi has been following the directives of the Supreme Court diligently but it lacks the acumen to deal with Roy.

How could Roy find himself in such a situation? The Sahara chief refused to give information to Sebi and thought he could get away with it, but now the apex court is seeking the same details from him. Had he provided the information to Sebi, he would not have found himself in such a mess.

It may or may not be the end game for Roy but many lessons can be learnt from the Sebi-Sahara spat.

First, it’s a vindication of the independence of the judiciary. In this case, justice may have been delayed but definitely not denied. The Supreme Court has demonstrated that politicians cannot shield a businessman for ever.

Second, it’s a lesson for the Indian financial system on its loopholes and how any smart entrepreneur can use regulatory arbitraging to his advantage.

Third, if indeed the two Sahara group firms had 30 million investors in their bonds, the Indian financial system can learn lessons in financial inclusion from Roy. The total number of demat accounts in India is about 20 million.

Finally, if Sahara fails to furnish the correct list of investors, the money for which there are no takers will flow into the government’s consolidated fund for investor education. That will deal a blow to Roy’s business model.

Note: Sahara has filed a defamation case in a Patna court against Mint’s editor and some reporters over the newspaper’s coverage of the company’s disputes with Sebi. Mint is contesting the case.

Banker’s Trust Realtime is a frequent blog by Tamal Bandyopadhyay, who writes a popular weekly column Banker’s Trust.
Tamal Bandyopadhyay
First Published: Tue, Apr 23 2013. 01 34 PM IST
Updated: Tue, Apr 23 2013. 11 04 PM IST

No comments:

Post a Comment