When will the invisible and faceless Yogi at the National Stock Exchange be identified?

Who can believe that a Yogi in the Himalayas gave directions on financial matters, used emails and ordered recruitments at India's largest stock exchange but did not have a physical form?

Chitra Ramakrishna
Chitra Ramakrishna

AJ Prabal

Why would an inquiry into financial misconduct include salacious emails sent to the former Managing Director of the National Stock Exchange (NSE) Chitra Ramkrishna? That too from an unidentified ‘Baba’ in the Himalayas?

It is possibly because Ramkrishna claimed that she was being advised by this Baba and that she had appointed a CEO on the advice of this Baba and paid him enormous and disproportionate wages.

Ramkrishna, now 59 years of age, is believed to be living in Mumbai after she resigned in 2016 following an ‘Algorithm scam’ and questions raised about decisions taken by her. A Chartered Accountant by training Ramkrishna had risen from the ranks and spent the better part of her life building up the National Stock Exhange before taking over as CMD in 2013. Hailed as the ‘Queen of the bourses’, NSE’s spectacular growth was partly attributed to her.

One of the highest paid executives, Ramkrishna was paid a sum of Rs. 44 Crore by way of compensation during the three years between 2013 and 2016. But while the Income Tax Department is said to have carried out search and seizure operation in Mumbai this week, few details are surprisingly available about her in the public domain.

What whetted lurid interest in the case were the emails that the mysterious Baba sent her. The emails, reproduced in SEBI’s report, place a question mark on the mental health of Ramkishna. Could such a highly placed executive claim in all fairness that the Baba had guided her for 25 years and that he need not have any physical manifestation?

That alibi seems to have prompted SEBI to reproduce the mails in an effort to establish that this Baba is a man known to Ramakrishna but masquerading as a sage. More shockingly, Ramkrishna admits to have shared financial details of the NSE with this person.

“Keep bags ready, I am planning a travel to Seychelles next month, if you can come with me before Kanchan goes to London and Bharghava to New Zealand... HK is preferred transit or Singapore for onward journey…If you know swimming then we could enjoy a sea bath in Seychelles and rest in the beach. I am asking my tour operator to connect with Kanchan for all of our tickets,” reads an email sent to Ramkrishna in February, 2015.

The same month in another mail, the Baba tells Ramkrishna, “Today you are looking awesome. You must learn different ways to interesting and appealing…”

They hardly look like messages from an ascetic. So, who is he?

The investigation revealed that this “spiritual person” recommended that the NSE MD recruit a mid-level official at a Balmer Lawrie subsidiary in Calcutta – Anand Subramanian – as her principal advisor between April 2015 and October 2016. Subramanian was VP-Leasing & Repair Services earning a salary of less than Rs. 15 lakh per annum — and had “zero exposure to capital markets”.

In April 2013 when Ramkrishna offered him the role of a part-time consultant working four days a week, he was however offered a salary of Rs 1.68 crore. By October 2016, his annual compensation had gone up to Rs 4.21 crore. The post was never advertised; there was no record of any interview and there were no records with NSE’s HR department.

The SEBI report claimed, “By August 2015, Subramanian was attending all board meetings of the NSE. In June 2016, he was authorised to form a subsidiary of NSE to set up a stock exchange at the International Financial Services Centre at GIFT City – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project which is being implemented with a lot of fanfare. Soon all the functional heads were reporting to Subramanian who was re-designated as group operating officer and advisor to the MD and CEO.”

The investigation holds that several highly placed people at the bourse including Ravi Narain–Ramkrishna’s predecessor– were aware of this mysterious Yogi or Baba and his communications with the NSE boss. Narain was MD of the bourse from April 1994 to March 2013. Later, he became the vice-chairman of NSE and remained in that position till June 2017. They took a “conscious decision… not to report the matter to Sebi and (chose to)…keep the matter under wraps.”

The market regulator has imposed a fine of Rs. 3 crore on Ramkrishna, Rs. 2 crore each on NSE, Ravi Narain and Subramanian, and Rs. 6 lakh on V.R. Narasimhan.

Is it too little and too late?

Prof Gourav Vallabh, spokesperson of the Congress, posed the following questions on the simmering controversy:

• What was SEBI doing from 2016 on Chitra Ramkrishna’s shenanigans when scandalous facts were first reported?

• Why was the case not transferred to CBI, SFIO, ED and IT for investigation in the last six years?

• Since 2015 when co-location and algo trading scam was reported in NSE, what is the action initiated by Finance Ministry and SEBI against NSE?

• Why did Sebi ask NSE to undertake a forensic audit instead of carrying out the investigation itself ?

• Why can’t the IP address of this unidentified fraud be traced and disclosed?

Vallabh, while addressing the media, claimed that he had details of people who had bought shares of the NSE in the last seven years. The share value, he claimed, would go up hugely the day NSE issues a public offering.

The spartan details in the SEBI inquiry report raises more questions than answers. And since neither the Prime Minister nor the Finance Minister is willing to speak up on the issue, shouldn’t the regulator come up with a White Paper?

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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