PACL’s small investors from remote districts are in a panic about their investments, as the company gives them a run-around; but SEBI recovery proceedings can begin only after 11 November 2015, as per SAT order
Lakhs of investors who put their hard earned money in PACL formerly Pearls Agrotech Corp Ltd, a collective investment scheme (CIS), are in a panic about the fate of their investment after the company has been ordered to refund their money. It may be recalled that this company has raised a whopping Rs49,000 crore from people across the country, claiming to have bought them a stake in land, like a land mutual fund. PACL has also used India’s slow legal system very effectively to delay regulatory action for several years, while it continued to collect money from people. In fact, it has doubled the money raised, even after Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) began action against it.
The All India PACL (Pearls) Investors Association, on 13 October 2015, organised a protest-cum-meeting of investors in Parbhani district of Maharashtra. The Association, led by Rajan Kshirsagar, has started collecting applications forms from all investors in PACL, in order to send it to SEBI for further proceeding. Thousands of people from Parbhani district had invested thousands of rupees in PACL and all are now facing a severe financial crunch, which is magnified by the drought in the entire region.
During the meeting, it was decided to call for a protest before the Collector at Parbhani on 2nd November demanding action against PACL. The Association also demanded seizure all assets of PACL by SEBI for refunding money to investors. SEBI should algo create a lien on PACL assets in proportion of money invested by investors, SEBI should create a system to record complaints from investors in Parbhani district within next 15 days. "SEBI should also take action against other 95 companies barred from conducting similar CIS schemes," Kshirsagar said in a statement.
Video recordings by the Association have stories about how people were convinced to become agents of PACL and have ended up persuading their family and friends to invest in the company.
Sangita Jadhav, from Jintur taluka, personally invested Rs1 lakh in PACL. She also made several others to invest money in the CIS. Sangita says she joined PACL in 2009 and brought several people into the scheme. But her condition today is so bad that these investors are continuously asking her for refund of their money and she had to even keep her mobile handset switched off for most of the days as she has no answer. According to her, for more than two years, PACL told her that the company had filed a petition in High Court. "How many times, I can give next dates to people. Even thought people in the PACL office continue to give future dates whenever we ask for refund of our money," she says.
Sangita says, "About 30 people from my village had invested money in PACL. The company stopped paying us since October-November 2013. The bonds, which I submitted for redemption in November 2013, are still unpaid. All investors are now thinking about taking out a morcha to SEBI and seek refund of our money.”
Another investor-cum-agent, Sudhakar Kshetre, says since he was unemployed, he joined PACL in 2007. "PACL had lot of expectations (from us) and since there was no other job available, I started working for them. From then, I made my relatives, friends and other people to invest about Rs10 lakh in PACL. This is apart from my own investment of around Rs30-40,000," he says.
"These people are harassing me for getting their money back. They say we invested money since you asked us to do so and since we do not know the company, you pay back (the money). 'You came to our house seeking money, now, you pay it back' is what people are telling me. Some people are even threatening to commit suicide in front of my doors. But I think, unless we all investors come together and take our case before SEBI, no money would come from PACL," Kshetre added.
Market regulator SEBI, the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) and the Supreme Court have all ruled in favour of investors and directed PACL to refund money. SEBI, in a welcome move has started collecting applications or letters from all investors of PACL, both online and offline and sending it to the company for redressal. As per the order from SAT, the recovery proceedings can be initiated only after 11 November 2015, and till that time, investors will have to only wait.
If this is the situation in one small and remote district of Maharashtra, the plight of investors across India can only be imagined. Moneylife Foundation had written to SEBI asking it to create a separate email or format for PACL investors to lodge their grievances, especially since many are not very literate and are clueless about SEBI and the online complaint filing process of SCORES.
Hopefully, other organisations and activists will be able to help people in the process. Moneylife Foundation has said that it will be happy to work with SHGs and NGOs around the country to collate information in various languages and forward it to SEBI. Those who need its help may contact firstname.lastname@example.org .