Hard to believe a preliminary investigation against C B Bhave by the CBI

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Hard to believe a preliminary investigation against C B Bhave by the CBI
As a reporter with the Hindustan Times between 1998-2000 my one frequent destination for stories was the National Securities Depository Ltd (NSDL) office in Worli, Mumbai. 

The reason was to get exclusive stories from its Chairman, C B Bhave. Now, there were plenty of stories from NSDL then, simply because the NSDL was mandated to hold equity shares of all of the country's shareholders in the electronic form. Hitherto, people held shares in the physical form, but, that was to be done away with and NSDL had a big task in hand.

Bhave, was not very media savvy and was extremely soft spoken. "Could you meet-up with Koshy," he would often tell me. On a number of occasions that he did grant interviews, he would reveal really little.

But, he was extremely faithful to his job, because he would convey on each occasion, the need for people to convert their physical shares to electronic form. As I was writing the article I skimmed through the old clippings that I had preserved of interviews and realised that all Bhave would reveal was to push people to dematerialise their shares in the electronic form.

He would convey that to me in all of his interviews. It showed his faithfulness to the job and today almost all of the country's shareholders' shares are being held by either the NSDL or CDSL in the electronic form. The NSDL had done a tremendous job in educating investors to convert their shares to electronic form, from the certificates that most had until the mid-90s.In the two years, I developed a good rapport with Bhave, and eventually did get exclusive stories. Most of the NSDL stories also came from Koshy, who I think was the Vice President then (not sure though).

Thereafter, I quit the Hindustan Times to earn petro dollars in the Middle East. When I was back I learnt that C B Bhave had become Chairman of Securities and Exchange Board of India (India's capital market watchdog).

As things stand today, I keep reading that there are preliminary investigations against C B Bhave as he gave permission to the Financial Technologies (FT) group to set up an exchange. The FT group of course is in the dock for the National Spot Exchange fiasco.

Another person in the cloud is K. M. Abraham, former board member of the Securities and Exchange SEBI. Now this man like Bhave is known to be a man of integrity. Despite the odds he took on a powerful Sahara Group. Today, the Supreme Court has directed the Sahara Group to refund crores of rupees of depositor money, thanks to Abraham who went hammer and tongs after the Sahara group.

The charges against Bhave and Abraham, which the CBI is probing, are that they gave permission to the FT group to set up an exchange despite a report from the finance ministry on a tax raid against the group in 2007. Bhave had this to tell the Economic Times: "The original letter from the finance ministry regarding the income-tax investigation came during the tenure of his predecessor, M Damodaran. Further, in 2007, Sebi had taken a policy decision that a mere probe was not enough to deny approval.

Instead, the regulator should go by actual findings of any governmental agency or a regulatory authority. "I agree with that (2007) decision. But following its own reasoning...the director, CBI, should tell us why CBI has not filed a case against my predecessor also. If three Sebi chairmen take the same view and only one is honoured with a PE against him, what does it say?" Bhave told ET.

These two gentleman have done wonderfully well and both are known to have the highest level of integrity. That's one reason they are receiving support from every quarter.

"This type of a fishing expedition by the CBI is detrimental to decision making in the public domain," Union minister Jairam Ramesh told PTI. He dubbed the CBI action as "completely wrong". Noting that the Prime Minister has the "highest regard" for Bhave's integrity, the Union Rural Development Minister hailed Abraham as "one of the most honest officials".

According to the Indian Express, The preliminary enquiry against ex-Sebi chief CB Bhave and former member KM Abraham is understood to have raised eyebrows in the finance ministry as an income tax case on the Jignesh Shah led Financial Technologies India Ltd (FTIL) was closed over three years ago.

Bhave along with his team revolutionised electronic trading, depositories, derivatives and broadly the capital markets.

Clearly, Bhave and Abraham are getting support from every quarter. It's difficult to believe that Bhave and Abraham would have done something against the law. Time alone will tell.


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