Subrata Roy, chief of the Sahara group of companies, may well be a worried man now, given his prolonged face-off with market regulator, Securities Exchange Board of India (Sebi). Sebi has been given powers to attach properties and bank accounts of persons and companies failing to comply with its directions, such as paying penalties, making refunds to investors or paying other dues.
The government has acceded to Sebi's longstanding demand to be given more powers to rein in erring companies, powers of the kind that courts of law usually enjoy. Henceforth Sebi is free to pass orders to search, confiscate, attach property, and even arrest defaulters and pass disgorgement directions to recover the wrongful gains made in contravention of laws.
"This gives Sebi unbridled powers," says Jay Parikh, Partner at Verus Advocates. "But it has to be seen how it works, whether it is used appropriately or misused."
The decision to grant more powers to Sebi may well have been provoked by its dispute with Sahara, which culminated in Sebi's directive that two of Sahara's unlisted group companies, Sahara India Real Estate Corporation and Sahara Housing Investment Corp, refund Rs 24,000 crore to investors.
Rules have also been amended to tackle the growing menace of ponzi schemes being floated as collective investment schemes (CIS). From now on, all collections of Rs 100 crore or more will be treated as CIS. Sebi has been given powers to crack down on illegal investment schemes floated by individuals as well - until now, it could take action only against companies.
"Now, Sebi can also bite and not merely bark," says a FII broker on condition of anonymity. Operators and traders engaged with insider trading will have to be cautious. But the power should be exercised responsibly. There have been times in the past that Sebi's judgements have drawn criticism. If the power is used judiciously it will help all stakeholders and will be good for the integrity of financial markets. If misused, it could even destroy the market.