On seeing the ball cross the boundary during an India-Bangladesh cricket match, a question popped up. On the boundary was written ‘Sahara India’. India and Bangladesh teams were playing to win the Sahara Cup. The very surprising thing is that the Chief of the Sahara group, Subrata Roy Sahara, is in jail. Whether it was cricket, badminton, hockey, Formula One or polo, Subrata Roy played a very positive role in promoting games and sports in the country. But this time, a game was played with the head of the Sahara family himself. It is indeed surprising that no action is taken against scamsters and those who are corrupt, they do not go to jail, they get anticipatory bail. Perhaps because we had heard that India’s law is such that a hundred fugitives or offenders or criminals may be let off, but not a single innocent should be punished. So this means that Subrata Roy must surely have committed such a grave crime for which he is being given punishment. We conducted an investigation into the whole matter to find out the truth.
Subrata Roy Sahara was sent to jail on 4 March, 2014, and that too even after he had tendered an apology and appeared in court. For what crime he was sent to jail is beyond one’s understanding. What are the charges against Subrata Roy? Has Subrata Roy been apprised of these charges? Was any hearing held before Subrata Roy was sent to jail? Actually, the matter was just that the court wanted Subrata Roy to appear before it. Subrata Roy said that his mother was old and ill. Subrata Roy is 66 years of age, so his mother’s age must be above 80 years. At such an age who remains healthy nowadays? But the court didn’t heed a single thing that Subrata Roy said. On 26 February, 2014 the court issued a non-bailable warrant against him. After this he did appear in court. If there was a charge against Subrata Roy of not appearing in court, the day he appeared before the court and apologised, the matter should have ended that day itself. If it is a matter of contempt of court, was a hearing held? The punishment will obviously be given only after the contempt of court is proved. But he was sent straight to jail.
Another question arises here: is the presence of a company owner or CEO essential every time in court for all cases, big or small, related to that company? Is there no law or rule in our country where lawyers can represent a client presence in the court? It is seen that people use illness as an excuse or pretext to stay out of jail. How is it possible that there are separate rules for different people in the same country?
For what crime is Subrata Roy being punished? If it is a case of cheating, who are the people who have been cheated? Recently the Saradha case came up in West Bengal, where investors came out on the streets at many places and some people committed suicide. But out of Sahara’s three crore investors, not a single one has complained. In fact, the Sahara case is that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) banned two companies of Sahara from taking money from investors and told them to refund the money to the investors. Sahara said that they had returned the money. SEBI believes that the money was not returned and is demanding money through the court, so that it can itself return the money to the investors. Now, what is difficult for Sahara is that how can it return the money twice over to the investors. In 2008, Sahara had refunded Rs 18,000 crores to investors, under monitoring by the Reserve Bank of India. SEBI or any other agency did not ever receive any complaint on behalf of investors of Sahara and neither did Sahara ever violate the provisions of the KYC (Know Your Customers). The Reserve Bank of India had in July 2008 restructured the Board of Sahara India Financial Corporation Limited and three independent Directors were appointed. Photographs of all depositors were taken, audits were conducted at all the branches and surprise checks (aksmik) were carried out and technical verification of individuals was also carried out, but not a single case of violation of rules was identified.
Sahara claims that 93 per cent of the money to the investors, i.e. Rs 23,500 crore has already been paid and all documents relating to this have been submitted to SEBI. At that time no one raised any questions about the validity of both companies of Sahara. At that time the matter was not under the jurisdiction of SEBI. Then why did SEBI suddenly become ‘activated’ by a complaint from a fictitious person – Roshan Lal? In addition, Rs 5,620 has already been given to SEBI for repayment, but till now only it has been able to distribute only Rs 1 crore, which is evidence that their money has been refunded to most investors.
Sahara has been making the claim from the beginning that it has refunded the money to 93 per cent one-time convertible debentures (OFCDs) investors. If SEBI still wants money from Sahara to return to the investors, it would be difficult not just for Sahara but for anyone. It is now the responsibility of SEBI to find out whether the money has been returned or not to the investors. SEBI has so far not conducted any inquiry, but it is has accepted that the said investors are ‘fake’, they don’t exist. Now the question is that if there are no investors, then what is SEBI’s role here? SEBI is a Board that has been formed to keep the rights of investors secure.
If one casts a look at the entire Sahara episode, then this whole issue is affected with many ‘conflicts’. In the hearings that have been going on for two years, there are many things which are intriguing and most surprising. Without making any investigation SEBI declared that Sahara investors were ‘fake’. During the hearings, the matter of two Sahara investors came up. The names of these two investors are Kalawati and Haridwar. In respect of Kalawati, the court said that the house number, lane, road and name of locality given in her address is not correct. About Haridwar it was said that it is beyond understanding how a person’s name can be Haridwar. This can be the name of a place, not of a person. It is very strange how people in a village can be expected to produce a house number, a lane or road name. In the villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, house numbers are not in vogue. Village people would think it’s a joke that lanes or roads in their village have a name. As for the name Haridwar, approximately one in every hundred names is connected with a city or place. In any case, when the court raised objections in both these cases, then as ‘evidence’ the concerned persons were called during the hearing. They would sit there during the hearings. When during one hearing the judges were made to meet them, they said it was just a comment we had made. It is a matter of surprise that when SEBI’s entire reasoning is based on the premise that the investors are ‘fake’, the above observation cannot be considered unofficial or off the record in the matter. So far SEBI has failed to authenticate that the investors in Sahara are ‘fake’.
But look at the irony. This matter began with a complaint by a person called Roshan Lal. Roshan Lal described himself as a Chartered Accountant and an Indore resident. He had made an appeal to SEBI to take action against OFCDs of two companies of Sahara. But who is this Roshan Lal, nobody has been able to find out so far. SEBI never presented him in court. On the complaint of a fictitious person SEBI made a mountain out of a molehill. Fictitious because when a letter was sent to Roshan Lal in the name of Enam Securities, it turned out to be a fake address. A newspaper also tried to search for Roshan Lal, but the journalist also failed. The address given by Roshan Lal is a fake address. It is very strange that when Roshan Lal, on whose complaint SEBI is fighting such a big case is a ‘fake’, then how can SEBI say that the Sahara investors are ‘fake’. That SEBI which could not find out anything about one Roshan Lal, how will it be able to establish the authenticity of three crore persons?
Meanwhile a weird incident took place. When it was said on behalf of Sahara that we have returned the money, the court told Sahara that the people to whom you have returned the money, give us information
about them. The court gave Sahara a time period of 10 days for doing this. For giving the papers relating to 2 lakh investors and depositing them in the office of SEBI in Mumbai, only 10 days were given. One fifty seven trucks loaded with files were sent from Lucknow to Mumbai. For any truck it generally takes 7 days to reach Mumbai from Lucknow. These trucks were late by 6 hours in reaching the office of SEBI, so people at the office said that now the time limit has expired. Because the trucks reached late, SEBI refused to take the files. The files kept lying there. Then the court asked SEBI to take the files. It was then that SEBI took the files. Now SEBI has to prove that the Sahara investors are ‘fake’, but so far no inquiry has been conducted by SEBI. What will happen if these investors turn out to be genuine investors? Whose responsibility will to be to virtually ‘sink’ a large group of companies in the country? Who will compensate for the damage of sending Subrata Roy to jail, for causing mental harassment to Sahara workers, and the harm that was caused to the Sahara group of companies?
The court is saying that to get Subrata Roy out of jail, Sahara will have to deposit money. Give 5 thousand crore rupees in cash and give a bond of 5 thousand crore rupees of immovable property, and you will get bail. Is Subrata Roy running away from the country? In any case, the court has confiscated his passport. Even if he runs away, his properties will remain in India. The Government and the law can seize them and the investors money can be refunded. Where is the need to send him to jail? The condition the court has kept for giving bail is a world record. It was ready to give bail for 5 thousand crore rupees in cash and a bond of 5 thousand crore rupees of immovable property. This is the largest bail amount in the world so far, But even here there is a condition. The court disallowed him from selling his properties in India and also froze his bank accounts. This means that you cannot sell your properties, cannot withdraw money from the bank. Then how will somebody be able to furnish such a large bail amount?
After this, on 12th March, 2014, the Sahara lawyers filed a habeas corpus writ in the Supreme Court. According to them, the bench of Justice Radhakrishnan and Justice Khehar had sent Subrata Roy to jail in an illegal manner. In other words, the bench had made a mistake in the hearing of the Sahara case. An appeal had been made to the Chief Justice, but the case was sent to the bench of Justice Radhakrishnan and Justice Khehar, against whom this writ had been filed. This means that the same judges heard the Sahara case against whom Sahara Lawyers had filed a complaint. The Sahara lawyers kept pleading that at least this case should not be heard by those judges against whom there was a writ petition. Now, one cannot understand how it is possible that very same judges against whom a writ petition has been filed should give a decision in the matter. After sending Subrata Roy to jail, on 6 May, 2014 Justice Khehar recused himself from the case. News came that he had said there was a lot of pressure from the Sahara lawyers, therefore he wants to separate himself from the case. So had he made decisions so far under pressure? Justice Radhakrishnan retired on 14 May, 2014. Now the hearings of the case are being conducted by a bench of Justice Thakur and Justice Sikri. Now they will decide how correct SEBI is in this matter, what is the offence or crime of Subrata Roy and what will be the future of the Sahara group of companies.
However, one thing one cannot understand is that in the case of the Coca Cola Society in Mumbai, the Supreme Court gives a decision to make the people homeless. Those people who had put in their life time earnings to buy a house, where will they go now? In the Adarsh scam, nothing happens to anybody, nobody’s home is snatched away, no is rendered homeless. Is it because in the Coca Cola Society, a Chief Minister does not own a flat, no relatives of a Minister live there or that someone like a former Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor does not have a flat there? After the Railways, the Sahara Group provides the most jobs in the country. Lakhs of people manage to earn a living because of this company. After the head of the Sahara family, Subrata Roy went to jail, the lives of lakhs of poor and middle-class families are in limbo. When the Supreme Court asks Subrata Roy to deposit 10,000 crore rupees, it affects lakhs of families who wonder what will happen to us, what our future will be. People linked to the Group worry that the office in which they work may be sold. If this group of companies sinks, who knows where so many people will go.
A philosopher in Greece was the first to have defined justice. He had said justice is ‘Might is Right’. The definition may have changed, but its essence has not changed. SEBI today has the might of the pen, which it is using like a stick. Anyway, currently, justice can be obtained only in the court. Whatever the court decides, that will have to be accepted.