SEBI meeting on NSDL issue 'inconclusive'

The SEBI board met on Tuesday to discuss the alleged failure of NSDL in preventing the IPO scam during 2003-05, but it did not take any decision on this issue. SEBI chief CB Bhave, who was heading NSDL during the period of the scam, did not attend the session.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) Board, which met on Tuesday to discuss the alleged failure of National Securities Depository Ltd (NSDL) in preventing the initial public offer (IPO) scam during 2003-05, did not take any decision.

"The Board on Tuesday heard the NSDL matter but no final decision was taken; that will take some time," a source close to the development told PTI.

SEBI chairman CB Bhave, who was heading NSDL during the period of the alleged scam, did not attend the session which was chaired by Mohandas Pai. The NSDL keeps records of equity transactions and demat accounts. Mr Bhave later succeeded M Damodaran as SEBI chief in February 2008.

The IPO scam case refers to SEBI's investigations into 21 IPOs that hit the market between 2003 and 2005. SEBI's probe revealed that shares reserved for retail investors were illegally acquired by various entities through tens of thousands of fake demat accounts and fictitious applications.

A two-member bench was constituted after Mr Bhave took over as SEBI chairman. The bench comprising G Mohan Gopal (director of National Judicial Academy) and former RBI deputy governor V Leeladhar had passed an order against NSDL, directing it to carry out an independent enquiry to establish individual accountability for the failures of NSDL in the IPO scam.

It may be recalled that SEBI had suppressed the orders of the Gopal-Leeladhar committee for almost a year and made them public only after a public interest litigation was filed in the Andhra Pradesh High Court forcing their disclosure. Even then, the board decided to declare the orders 'non est' on the rather dubious excuse that the committee had exceeded its powers by criticising SEBI itself. It then decided to hear the NSDL issue afresh and 'dispose of the case'. It was largely believed that the SEBI board will give NSDL a clean chit.

This view has since been criticised by Justice JS Verma, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India. Justice Verma had opined that "the recent decision (of the) SEBI board to review and declare as ‘non-est’ two quasi judicial orders of SEBI violates established legal and Constitutional principles. These quasi judicial orders may be reviewed only by a judicial forum with requisite jurisdiction, at the instance of a petitioner with standing to seek relief."

There is also another issue about Mr Achuthan's opinion that will have to be considered by the board. The SEBI committee which obtained Mr Achuthan's opinion had omitted to take into account that he is a director of the National Stock Exchange (NSE). More pertinently, his firm has represented the registrar Karvy and several other firms indicted by SEBI in the IPO scam. There is a strong view that this represents a conflict of interest that was not openly disclosed to the board by SEBI officials who are working overtime to protect Mr Bhave or follow his diktat.

There was also an opinion among legal circles that the entire SEBI board cannot act as a quasi-judicial body to decide matters that are controversial.


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    New wine in an old battle

    Prices of wine are crashing, but it is still perceived to be a rich man’s drink. Will the scenario ever change?

    When I was in my teens, the only time I saw wine was during a wedding or a communion. The perception then, and the tale that I heard of wine from family and peers, was that it was meant to be a drink for the rich. Let me put it more precisely—‘A chick’s drink for the rich to enjoy’—so went the old adage. Has the perception of wine changed over the years?

    Let’s cut to the present. Recently, I went for a wine-tasting event conducted by Indus Wines at the Taj President, Mumbai. Indus introduced their three new wine brands dedicated to the “commoner residing in Mumbai.” Slices of bread and bread sticks were placed on the table for us to savour along with our wine. It felt like any sane wine-tasting event and then out of nowhere I was served a vada pav. The idea behind their odd proposition was to make wine available for the common man. The idea ‘Wine with Vada Pav’ is a bit out there, but is it really? Why can’t we have our wines mingle with our very own Indian delicacies?

    The reasoning is simple. Our attitude towards wine hasn’t changed; it is still perceived to be an elitist drink. Even with Sula Wines and Indus Wines coming up with low-priced wines, the total share of wine in the total alcohol market is still under 1%. That being said, India’s population is over 1.1 billion and 1% is not a bad piece of the pie, but compare wine consumption with that of whisky and beer and a totally different picture begins to emerge.

    According to a report on the Indian wine market by JBC International, a Washington-based consulting firm, the consumption of wine in the country is mostly by the elite. The report also recognises that the current Indian wine market has to compete with whisky that sells around 50 million cases, beer which sells 110 million cases and country liquor which sells 200 million cases annually. “Everywhere in India, we have ‘wine shops’, but there is hardly any wine available,” says Sula Wines vice-president, Pradeep Panchpatel. However, the scenario is slowly improving for the wine sector. “The total sales of wines in ‘wine shops’ have jumped to 5%-10% from 1%-2% earlier,” adds Mr Panchpatel.

    There’s another reason why Indian wine sales are not going to touch a new high. Indians, on an average, don’t prefer to sip their alcohol and enjoy the feel that it gives them. They would rather cherish the kick that they get from their favourite intoxicant. “The problem with wine is that it isn’t intoxicating enough. With wine (for a ‘kick’) you need to drink the whole bottle,” says Sushil Raheja from Sunny Wines Suppliers.

    Another factor that depresses wine sales is that it perceived to a drink mostly consumed by women. Violet D’souza, owner & director, Indus Wines, says, “When is the last time you have seen a woman go to buy wine? We need wine to be sold like any other beverage; it would make it easier for women to buy.” She adds, “Winemakers aren’t allowed to advertise for we are considered to be alcohol producers. At the same time, wine output is treated like an agriculture produce.”

    But winemakers are still going out of their way to promote wine. They are trying all sorts of things—from wine tourism, wine-tasting events, price-cuts and some are even propagating the health benefits of drinking wine.

    Ivy, a Château Indage restaurant and bar in Worli, wants to attract revellers by providing them with all the wine they can drink on New Year’s Eve and the next day, for just Rs500. However, the wine that will flow on both these days will be from the winemaker’s cheaper stable—brands like ‘Raging Bull’, ‘Silver Tone’ and ‘WinBallet’—and the tap will be turned off only at midnight.

    Optimism is clearly something that winemakers don’t lack. Rajeev Samant, owner of Sula Wines believes that the “sky is the limit” for the industry, while Abhishek Kabir, owner & director, Indus Wines, is of the belief that winemakers are “creating a revolution.”

    However, the industry faces a double whammy: unsold stocks of wines at various vineries are piling up due to last year’s recession and winemakers are also staring at huge losses. Sula Wines still has over 40%-50% of its wine lying unsold in its tanks, while Indus Wines has around 90% of its wine still in its inventory. Big players like Indage are facing financial losses. Ergo, winemakers will be forced to cut the prices of their offerings. “The market itself has forced these conditions. The downturn resulted in a slowdown in the sales of wine at the Rs400 plus level, and pulled down demand, and supply outstripped demand,” says Mr Samant.

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    Domestic tankers, coastal trade to benefit from new cabotage policy

    If the proposed cabotage policy to bar foreign flagships in Indian costal trade is implemented, it will be helpful for the Indian tanker segment which already has a lot of tonnage lying idle at its disposal

    The Indian ministry of shipping is believed to have completed the draft note on the cabotage policy for the country. Cabotage is carriage of cargo between two points within a country by a vessel registered in another country. In general, permission to engage in cabotage is restricted in many countries. According to industry experts, the move by the Indian government will benefit the domestic tanker and coastal shipping segment.

    “It is going to benefit (India) as it is going to save the costal trade for domestic shipping companies. Indian costal shipping will be benefited across all sections. Especially those segments where there is already Indian tonnage lying idle. For example, in both crude and product tankers, there is adequate shipping tonnage available with Indian shipping companies. Both these segments are completely capable of catering to domestic tonnage requirements,” said S Hajara, chairman and managing director, Shipping Corporation of India (SCI). State-run SCI is amongst the strongest players in the Indian oil tanker segment.

    SS Kulkarni, secretary, Indian National Shipowners Association (INSA), also believes that the policy will help the oil and petroleum segment. “In segments like petroleum and gas we have 100% capacity, then why allow foreign vessels to operate, when Indian vessels can do the job,” he said.

    The cabotage policy—if implemented—will bar foreign ships and ships operated by foreigners from costal trade in India. The ban will apply on transport of goods and passengers between two ports on the Indian mainland. The cabotage policy is followed in most maritime nations to develop indigenous tonnage and provide cargo support to domestic players. During the economic slowdown, Indian flagship offshore vessels have been denied trade on the Brazilian and Nigerian coasts, in a move by these countries to provide cargo support to their domestic players.

    There have been discussions going on the cabotage policy from quite a long time. According to a recent PTI report, the ministry of shipping has finalised a draft note for stringent cabotage law to prohibit foreign ships and those manned by foreigners from doing coastal trade in view of the highly porous coastline and rising security threats.

    Though the policy is being introduced in line with security issues, it is surely a beneficial move for the Indian shipping industry. Justifying the policy, Mr Hajara said, “After all, shipping is a mode of transport, not different from any other form of transport. I don’t have the opportunity of travelling by international carriers on domestic routes, or no foreign player is allowed in the road transport or aviation. If allowing foreign players (in the coastal trade) will boost competition, then why not do the same in aviation and road transport as well?”

    “Other than security issues, the new policy will allow cargo support to domestic players. It will also help curb the outgo of money as far as costal shipping is concerned. To have an indigenous tonnage is also helpful during emergencies like war,” added Mr Kulkarni.

    Speaking on the Indian tonnage available presently for costal trade, Mr Kulkarni said, “The cabotage policy was intended from the time India won Independence, but we never implemented it as we did not have enough tonnage. However, there needs to be a beginning. Initially, we may face a problem with adequate Indian flagships being made available for costal trade. Thus, we may need to allow foreign flagship vessels to operate against a license. However, over a period of time, costal shipping will be taken care of with the available tonnage of Indian flagships.”

    Out of the 55 shipping companies in India, 19 exclusively deal in costal trade and another seven deal in both costal as well as overseas trades. At present, the Indian shipping industry comprises 510 ships, of which 240 are overseas fleet and 270 are coastal ships, including 70 offshore support vessels, about 25 supply vessels for offshore services and 12 dredgers. Figures for foreign share in the Indian costal trade are not available.

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    V Malik

    1 decade ago

    The earlier this happens, the better, co-terminus with easier permissions for operators of coastal and near coastal vessels. However, in truth, this change in policy has been pending for the past few decades and keeps popping up every now and then - without much actual change on the ground.

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