New Delhi: The chief executive of a top stock exchange which handles 49 crore transactions per day — worth a daily average turnover of Rs 64,000 crore — seeks the “guidance” of a faceless yogi to better perform her job. All over email without having ever met him.
This ‘yogi’ also gets a little-known employee of a public sector company hired as the chief strategy officer (CSO) of the stock exchange, a position that didn’t exist earlier, at an annual salary package of Rs 1.68 crore, more than ten times his previous package of Rs 15 lakh.
The ‘yogi’ gets the CEO to promote the CSO year after year to make him the group operating officer (GOO), even exempt him from the five-day work-week, allow him to come in only for three days and work the rest of the time at will.
That’s not all.
The CEO shares sensitive business information related to the stock exchange’s financial projections for five years, dividend pay-out ratio, business plans, agenda of board meeting and consultations over the ratings/performance appraisals of employees.
Eventually, a probe by the stock exchange which consulted “practitioners of human psychology” strongly suspects the CSO was himself the faceless ‘yogi’ and had created that fake identity to con the CEO and benefit from it.
It’s a shockingly bizarre ‘con job’ and even funny at one level, if it was the plot of a movie or a TV series.
Except this is no fiction, and is alleged to have happened for real at the National Stock Exchange, India’s top share exchange whose stated aim is to “catalyse India’s growth story by creating investment opportunities, enabling access and empowering our stakeholders”.
The CEO in question is Chitra Ramakrishna and the CSO she hired and then promoted is Anand Subramanian — who is also alleged to have doubled up as the ‘yogi’. Between 2013 and 2016, when Ramakrishna was NSE chief, she took business decisions on the advice of this ‘yogi’ and shared sensitive and confidential information about business matters with him.
The revelations came as part of a six-year probe that markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) undertook on complaints over misgovernance and wrongdoings at the NSE. In an order Friday, the regulator fined Ramakrishna and Subramanian Rs 3 crore and Rs 2 crore, respectively.
While SEBI maintained that allegations of Subramanian being the ‘yogi’ himself aren’t sustainable, the regulator in its order said the ex-GOO is surely an accomplice in the wrongdoings at the exchange.
In her submissions to SEBI on whether sharing such information is against the principles of governance, Ramakrishna said: “As we know, senior leaders often seek informal counsel from coaches, mentors or other seniors in this industry which are all purely informal in nature. In a similar strain, I felt that this guidance would help me perform my role better.”
What happened at NSE
According to the 190-page SEBI order issued Friday, NSE CEO and MD Chitra Ramakrishna hired Anand Subramanian as the bourse’s CSO in 2013 at a remuneration package of Rs 1.38 crore, over nine times his previous compensation of Rs 15 lakh at state-owned Balmer Lawrie.
The position of a CSO didn’t even exist before Subramanian’s appointment, but he didn’t have the required qualifications for such a position.
Over a period of three years, Ramakrishna kept on promoting him, eventually making him GOO. She even exempted him from working five days a week and instead asked to come only for three days and be allowed to work the rest of the time at will.
All of these decisions were made on the instructions of a faceless ‘yogi’, who goes by the name ‘Siddha Purusha’, according to Ramakrishna’s submissions.
She said the ‘yogi’ doesn’t possess a physical persona and can materialise at will, adding that he is a spiritual force that dwells in the Himalayas. She sent emails to an ID, email@example.com, sharing sensitive and confidential information about NSE, the SEBI order showed.
While she was going about making such decisions, between 2013 and 2016, several complaints were made with SEBI to allege governance issues in the appointment of Subramanian, who was also advisor to Ramakrishna.
The SEBI then began a probe, seeking evidence and depositions from the key characters, including Ramakrishna.
In a letter to ThePrint, however, Balmer Lawrie stated that Subramanian was not an employee of the company, but of Transafe Services Ltd (TSL) — a joint venture company of Balmer Lawrie. The letter added that TSL ceases to be a joint venture and Balmer Lawrie has no association with that company now.
Subramanian was ‘yogi’, claims NSE
In a 2018 letter to SEBI, the NSE submitted that “its legal advisers had consulted practitioners of human psychology and according to the opinion of these practitioners, Ramakrishna has been exploited by Subramanian by creating another identity in the form of Rigyajursama to guide her to perform her duties according to his wish”.
“Ramakrishna was manipulated by the same man in the form of different identities; one as Subramanian who enjoyed her trust and other as Rigyajursama who had her devotion and dependence,” it had added.
The NSE claimed that the email ID named above, in fact, belonged to Subramanian. The claim was based on the fact that Subramanian also knew this ‘unknown person’ for 22 years. Moreover, he was party to all the email interactions between the CEO and the ‘yogi’.
The SEBI order attached several emails in its order, including one in which the ‘yogi’ instructed Ramakrishna to exempt Subramanian from five-day weeks.
Another email instructed Ramakrishna: “SOM, if I had the opportunity to be a person on Earth then Kanchan is the perfect fit. Ashirvadhams.”
Ramakrishna responded: “SIRONMANI, struggle is I have always seen THEE through G, and challenged myself to on my own realise the difference.”
‘SOM’ refers to Ramakrishna, and ‘Kanchan’ and ‘G’ to Subramanian, the regulator said in its order.
According to the order: “Ramakrishna in the emails sent to the unknown person shared information pertaining to NSE’s financial projections for five years, dividend pay-out ratio, business plans, agenda of NSE’s board meeting and consultations over the ratings/performance appraisals of NSE employees.”
Some of the other emails under investigation revealed that the unknown ‘yogi’ had been interacting with Ramakrishna regularly even on operational issues regarding senior NSE employees.
NSE’s other troubles
This isn’t the first time that NSE has been accused of lapses in corporate governance.
In 2017, when the exchange wanted to launch an initial public offering, allegations surfaced that its officials had provided some high-frequency traders unfair access through colocation servers, which could speed up algorithmic trading, giving unfair advantage to these traders over others.
Anand Narayan, who specialises in securities laws and works as an in-house counsel at a major private firm, told ThePrint that “SEBI’s order against NSE and its senior officials shows massive misgovernance issues in one of India’s leading stock exchanges”.
“NSE may like to challenge the order before Securities Appellate Tribunal. However, SEBI has yet again shown its firm intention to protect the interest of investors by acting against NSE,” Narayan said.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)
(This copy has been updated to add a Balmer Lawrie statement to ThePrint saying that Anand Subramanian was not an employee of the company, but of Transafe Service Ltd, a joint venture of Balmer Lawrie, which has ceased to be so.)