Rose Valley is the third major entity from Kolkata to face action in recent months for running Ponzi schemes. SEBI has also clamped down on the Saradha group and Sumangal Industries
In a fresh Ponzi clampdown, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on Wednesday barred Kolkata-based Rose Valley group from raising public money in the name of “holiday membership” scheme, through which it is estimated to have mopped up over Rs1,000 crore (Rs10 billion) without necessary regulatory approvals.
After initial investigations into the 'Rose Valley Holiday Membership Plan' being run by Rose Valley Hotels and Entertainments (RVHEL), the market regulator found that the company was running a “collective investment scheme” without necessary approvals and registration with SEBI.
Accordingly, the market regulator has asked the company and its directors “not to collect any more money from investors including under the existing schemes” with immediate effect.
SEBI has also restrained them from launching any new schemes, disposal or alienation of any properties and diversion of funds till the further orders.
It has asked the company and its directors to submit their reply in this regard within 15 days. The final orders against the company would depend on further probe and the submissions made before it.
SEBI said that it began investigating the case after a complaint received from Assam Police regarding collection of Rs1,006.7 crore by RVHEL and another group company Rose Valley Real Estates Constructions (RVRECL) through the holiday membership scheme of the group till February 2012.
The scheme was mostly being run in the West Bengal, Assam and other north-eastern states by the group, which was one of the main promoters of the IPL cricket team Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and has earlier faced SEBI action for running unauthorised collective investment schemes in the name of real estate business.
Rose Valley is the third major entity from Kolkata to face action in recent months for running Ponzi schemes. SEBI has also clamped down on the Saradha group and Sumangal Industries.
In its 10-page order against RVHEL, SEBI said that the company is “prima facie engaged in fund mobilising activity from the public, by floating or sponsoring or launching collective investment schemes”.
“Protecting the interests of investors is the first and foremost mandate for SEBI and therefore, steps have to be taken in the instant matter to ensure only legitimate investment activities are carried on by RVHEL and no investors are defrauded.
“In light of the same, I find there is no other alternative left but to take recourse through an interim action against RVHEL for preventing it from further carrying on with its fund mobilising activity related to ‘collective investment scheme’, without registration from SEBI,” the regulatory body’s whole-time member S Raman said in his order.
The Cabinet note states that declaring political parties as public authorities under the RTI Act would “hamper their smooth internal functioning since it will encourage political rivals to file RTI applications with malicious intentions”
The law ministry has cleared the ordinance route to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act to overturn a Central Information Commission (CIC) order bringing six major political parties under the ambit of the transparency law.
“The ordinance route has been approved. Now it is up to the DoPT to bring it before Cabinet,” a top law ministry official said on Wednesday.
Defending the move to amend the RTI Act, the Cabinet note states that by declaring political parties as public authorities under the Right to Information Act would “hamper their smooth internal functioning since it will encourage political rivals to file RTI applications with malicious intentions”.
It says that the Representation of the People Act and the Income Tax Act provide sufficient transparency regarding financial aspects of political parties.
Under Section 2 of the RTI Act, the definition of public authority in the proposed amendment will make it clear that “it shall not include any political party registered under the Representation of the Peoples Act”.
As proposed earlier, political parties may not be added in the list of organisations (Section 8) exempted from parting information under the information act.
The Commission had in its 3rd June order said six national parties—Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI-M, CPI and BSP—have been substantially funded indirectly by the central government and they have the character of public authority under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.
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The Department of Fertilizers has been aware that gas is in short supply and LNG prices are high. What are the options open for the government to meet the demand for 30 million tonnes per annum of urea
India needs 30 million tonnes of urea every year to meet the current agricultural needs of land under cultivation. Domestic production of urea is about 22 million tonnes and the shortfall of 8 million tonnes is met through imports at an average cost of $400 per tonne.
Thanks to the long-term agreement signed with the Oman-India Fertilizer Company, we obtain 2.5 million tonnes from it, leaving 5.5 million tonnes to be obtained from other sources.
The allocation of natural gas to urea plants in India has been insufficient resulting in imports of LNG at about $20 per mmBtu (million metric British thermal units). The main supplier of gas, Reliance Industries has had a great fall in production, and it is hoped that this will increase now onwards.
It must be borne in mind that the price of gas in exporting countries is very low. For instance, in the case of Oman Oil Company's joint venture with Iffco/ Kribhco, gas is supplied by it at $3 per mmBtu, which, due to the high cost of liquefaction, transportation, regasification, etc shoots up the price to $12-$14.
Unfortunately, domestic gas supplies are inadequate and do not meet the full requirement of the fertilizer industry, and even at the present price of $4.2 per mmBtu, the government has to subsidize the cost of urea for supplies to the farmers. The proposal to increase gas price to $8.40 will only mean a greater subsidy to this industry so that farmers do not suffer. At the same time, the government cannot afford to withdraw this subsidy and leave the pricing of urea to the manufacturers as elections are round the corner.
For more than a decade now, 13 years to be precise, there has been no urea plant that has come up in the country primarily due to the fuel supply situation.
So, in January this year, when the government invited proposals under the new investment policy, the response has been overwhelming in as much as 15 applications were received, which are all in this field, showing keen interest either to expand their existing units or to put up new units, probably at new locations.
The reason for this encouraging response is simple. The government underwrites the entire production of urea and the investors will be able to have a profitable return of 15%-20% on equity. Of course, there is no guarantee for supply of gas, which is set to go north by April next year. In any case, an average of 18-24 months is required to set up new plants and investors will have to come out with their innovative ideas for ensuring fuel supply. Expansion of existing plants may be much shorter, but still the fuel supply issue will have to be tackled.
The Department of Fertilizers has been mulling on this idea for some time now as it is fully aware that gas is in short supply and LNG prices are high. What are the options open for the government?
The first one is to investigate the question of capacity expansion at the Oman plant.
The second is to start serious talks with the Emirate of Qatar, which is the largest supplier of LNG to India. It would be prudent, economical and viable and positively cheaper to set up the urea plant in this emirate, and import the urea into the country.
The third is to persuade NRI businessmen residing in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) to set up a urea plant in places like the Jebel Ali Free Zone where it is not even mandatory to have a local partner or sponsor to set up industries.
At the moment, therefore, it is futile to think of putting up any new plant in India until gas supplies are sufficiently large enough to meet the existing demand of the units. Or else, the existing units come up with alternative fuel arrangements to ensure production and supplies.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)