Without the SEBI top team to bat for it, NSE is quickly compromising on a variety of court battles
After three years of aggressive high-handedness, the National Stock Exchange (NSE), which has a virtual monopoly over India's capital markets, filed consent terms that closed a slew of lawsuits.
While the media has reported the end of the war, two important facts have escaped public attention. First, the NSE has also pushed to close a 2009 case filed by A Sebastin, a former NSE employee, whom the bourse had humiliated with a public notice, mainly because he had joined the rival MCX. Mr Sebastin had resigned from NSE in October 2008.
The NSE had chosen to deny a formal resignation and handover by Mr Sebastin and issued him a termination letter instead. It withheld his dues, including his provident fund and gratuity and further humiliated him by publishing his photograph in various newspapers to falsely suggest moral turpitude on his part. Worse, the NSE sought to quash Mr Sebastin's case, all the way to the Supreme Court, but was defeated at all levels. The case was referred back to the labour court for detailed hearing after NSE failed to quash it at the High Court and Supreme Court. The case had the potential of personally embarrassing NSE Managing Director Ravi Narain and his deputy Chitra Ramakrishna.
Our sources tell us that a crucial part of the deal with MCX was a request to persuade Mr Sebastin to drop the case without embarrassing senior NSE officials in court. The NSE in turn agreed to withdraw its wrong termination letter and to pay all of Mr Sebastin's dues which, in 2008, had added up to Rs32.50 lakh. The professionally-run exchange suffixed by the word 'National' spent considerably more in humiliating Mr Sebastin and in defending its action in court.
Interestingly, part of the agreement with the MCX Group and Mr Sebastin is that they will not speak to the media. As a result, neither NSE nor MCX was willing to speak on the issue. Mr Sebastin, who has been transferred to Chennai as the business development head of MCX, also did not want to go into details other than confirming the fact of an agreement signed with NSE. He also did not want to discuss why he did not press for an apology from the NSE for defaming him when it was the main reason why he dragged the exchange to court. Our sources say that Mr Sebastin may not have had a choice, because having him drop the cases against Mr Narain and Ms Ramakrishna were key to the consent terms filed with MCX-FT group on the broker front-office software and other matters. In effect, Mr Sebastin was "persuaded" to accept a settlement that merely paid his dues even though he was on a very strong wicket after the Bombay High Court passed strictures against the NSE officials.
A top source connected with the NSE told us, "I hope this works. Everyone concerned will need to stick to the commitments made. Equally they should not be tempted to go to the press." However, details of some aspects of the deal were already in the newspapers by then.
The real question is, why was the rich and powerful NSE, which for three years had dragged every real and imagined challenge to its supremacy to court, in such a hurry to close and bury multiple litigations?
One reason could be plain prudence. NSE couldn't have risked embarrassing losses in any more lawsuits after several reverses. It had lost the fight over being subject to the Right to Information (RTI) Act before the Central Information Commission and the Delhi High Court. It has now appealed to the Divisional bench. It lost to the forex derivatives bourse, MCX-SX, on the predatory pricing issue filed before the Competition Commission of India, which has imposed a Rs55.50 crore penalty on the NSE after finding it guilty of abusing its dominant market position. It has already faced several reverses and strictures in the case filed by Mr Sebastin over his wrongful termination and humiliation. The Bombay High Court case filed by Financial Technologies after NSE red-flagged its broker-trading software (ODIN) with an 80% market share was also looking shaky for NSE, say law experts.
But NSE had suffered many of these reverses many months ago. What caused the haughty and bullying exchange to compromise? Small fact: there is a new chief at the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Under the former chairman CB Bhave, SEBI had chosen to abdicate its responsibility of deciding all these issues and allowed MCX, Financial Technologies and Mr Sebastin to seek civil and criminal remedies. With Bhave and his buddy-group of two whole time directors (KM Abraham and MS Sahoo) and key Executive Directors heading the legal department and Secondary Markets (JN Gupta) in charge of the regulatory body, the NSE had nothing to worry about. But SEBI has a new chairman now. The change in regime at SEBI means that this support is no longer assured and the NSE has reacted swiftly, by quickly closing all cases. Here again, its monopoly status was a major advantage. After all, the other party to the suit was only battling it out in court to stay in business or, as in the case of Mr Sebastin, an employee fighting for his honour and financial dues.
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The country’s largest telecom player gets away with short-changing a customer, despite his constant efforts to rectify the situation
This will come as a shocker—India's largest telecom service provider, Bharti Airtel, is deducting an amount from prepaid subscribers—despite promising full talk time on certain recharge schemes.
On 1st August, through promotional messaging, Airtel came up with an offer, where on a recharge of Rs110, users would get full talk time of the same amount-along with Rs20 as special talk time valid for 7 days. This offer was valid only till 2nd August.
On receiving this message, Bengaluru-based Airtel user, NN Bala, subscribed to the scheme through a local mobile recharge shop on the same day.
To his shock, Mr Bala discovered that the recharge was done only for Rs100-despite him having paid Rs110. "As per Airtel's SMS, I am supposed to get Rs110 talk time but the top-up was done only for Rs100," he told Moneylife.
Subsequently, Mr Bala decided to take up the matter with Airtel to see where his Rs10 had gone. He sent an e-mail to the company. Here is Airtel's vague reply: "Talktime: Rs.111/- / Talktime Validity-20days / RC 100 = Rs 80 Talktime + 20 Local airtel to airtel minutes /Validity-Validity 20 Local airtel to airtel minutes in RC 100 is 5 Days." Obviously, this was a very confusing response from the telecom provider.
Mr Bala decided to contact Airtel again. Speaking to Moneylife, he said, "I asked something and they replied with something else just to evade a direct reply, thinking I may not follow up with them. I became furious and sent one more mail that if they don't clarify clearly what happened to my Rs10, I would go to court."
Interestingly, to his second e-mail query, Airtel sent a completely different reply, and also promised to credit Mr Bala his Rs10.
The company said, "Recharge with RC111 and get Rs100 talk time instantly. Also get 600 free seconds of Local & STD valid for 5 days. However, we would like to inform you that Rs10/- will be credited towards the same as one time benefit within 24 hours."
Mr Bala explained to Moneylife, "600 seconds of STD/local calls valid for 5 days amounts to Rs6.60. This means that even if you accept Airtel's explanation, you get additional Rs6.60 and not Rs10. This was not mentioned in the offer SMS or in the first e-mail reply. If you go through the SMS with the offer, it clearly says that the recharge amount will be Rs110. On every recharge of Rs110, the user should get complete talk time of Rs110 instantly. Therefore, the second email actually says that for a recharge of Rs111, you get (only) Rs100 as talk time instantly!"
He added, "After I followed up with the company, it agreed to credit me Rs10, but what happens to customers who don't report this matter to Airtel? They will be short-changed by Rs10. And such a number of cases could run into lakhs or even more."
Speaking to Moneylife, Achintya Mukherjee, honorary secretary, Bombay Telephone Users' Association (BTUA), said, "Whatever service has been provided, there has to be a service tax. By providing such offers of full talk time it is assumed that the service tax is paid by the company, which they invariably don't and hence the consumers are charged. Such messages are misleading and all the service providers across the board are doing it in some way or the other.
"There are very few people who complain after being over-charged. Out of 100% who subscribe to a scheme, only 10% complain. In that, say, about 5% follow it to the end, while others give it up. For users following (the case) to the end they may be credited back their money. So it gives an easy way for the companies to earn by mis-selling schemes to these people," he added.
An e-mail query sent by Moneylife to Airtel has not received any reply till the time of publishing this story.
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