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NSE chief, emails to a ‘yogi’, and an inglorious exit: The rise and fall of Chitra Ramkrishna

Ramkrishna, 59, a chartered accountant by training, was associated with the NSE in a leadership position since its inception in 1991.

Written by George Mathew | Mumbai |
Updated: February 18, 2022 7:49:22 am
Former MD and CEO of the National Stock Exchange (NSE), Chitra Ramkrishna. (Express photo)

For Chitra Ramkrishna, who is seen as having played a key role in the setting up and the growth of the National Stock Exchange (NSE), the fall was way steeper than the rise.

Ramkrishna’s involvement in several illegal activities as the CEO of the exchange has invited strictures and penalties from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on at least three occasions in the last three years. But the latest SEBI order, slapping more fines on Ramkrishna and the others who ran the operations at NSE, has brought to light a bizarre facet of corporate misgovernance at the country’s top bourse — that Ramkrishna allegedly collaborated with an unknown ‘yogi’ in the running of the exchange.

Ramkrishna, 59, a chartered accountant by training, was associated with the NSE in a leadership position since its inception in 1991. She was part of the core five-member team selected by the government in the early nineties to create a screen-based pan-Indian stock exchange to enable clean and transparent trading at a time when the BSE was hit by the Harshad Mehta scam.

Ramkrishna and her predecessor at the NSE, Ravi Narain, were hand-picked from the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) by its then Chairman S S Nadkarni, who later became SEBI chairman. Incidentally, Ramkrishna, who started her career in the project finance division of IDBI in 1985, also worked for market regulator SEBI for a brief period before joining the NSE.

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R H Patil, the first Managing Director of NSE, Narain and Ramkrishna were part of the core team that set up the NSE. After Narain’s tenure ended, she was selected to the post of Managing Director and CEO by the NSE Board for a period of five years with effect from April 1, 2013.

NSE watchers agree that she, along with Patil and Narain, played a key role in turning NSE into the largest stock exchange in the country with the support of institutions, SEBI and the government.

NSE was the world’s largest derivatives exchange in 2021 by number of contracts traded, according to statistics maintained by Futures Industry Association (FIA), a US-based body of futures commission merchants. NSE is now ranked fourth in the world in cash equities by number of trades, according to the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE).

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However, on December 2, 2016, Ramkrishna quit as Managing Director and CEO of the Exchange with immediate effect, presumably over differences with some Board members. Soon, the corruption charges followed.

In April 2019, SEBI asked the NSE to disgorge an amount of Rs 624.89 crore along with interest calculated at the rate of 12 per cent per annum from several persons — including Narain and Ramkrishna — to the Investor Protection and Education Fund (IPEF) in a co-location case that broke out at the bourse as part of which some brokers were able to log into the NSE system with better hardware specifications that allowed them unfair access and profit when compared to other investors. SEBI estimated that NSE earned a profit of Rs 624.89 crore during 2010-11 to 2013-14 from its co-location operation.

SEBI also asked Ramkrishna to shell out a quarter of her salary drawn for FY14 and prohibited her from associating with a listed company or a market infrastructure institution for a period of five years.

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In August 2020, SEBI imposed a monetary penalty of Rs 50 lakh on the NSE for changing the terms of remuneration of Ramkrishna and giving her a higher parting sum when she quit. SEBI permission is required for the compensation package of the top management of stock exchanges. Ramkrishna took home Rs 44 crore in just three years as MD and CEO and a further Rs 23 crore as total remuneration in the last eight months of her tenure.

The National Stock Exchange building in Mumbai. (Wikimedia Commons)

On February 11, 2022, SEBI penalised the NSE and its former MDs and CEOs, Ramkrishna and Narain, and others for violating securities contract rules in the case related to the appointment of Anand Subramanian as group operating officer and advisor to the MD. The regulator levied a fine of Rs 3 crore on Ramkrishna, Rs 2 crore each on the NSE, Narain and Subramanian and Rs 6 lakh on V R Narasimhan, who was the chief regulatory officer and chief compliance officer.

The latest SEBI order has exposed the bizarre and allegedly illegal ways in which those at the helm of the exchange ran its operations.

The regulator’s order dated February 11 said Ramkrishna was guided by a faceless “Siddha Purusha/Yogi”, “a Paramahansa who may be largely dwelling in the Himalayan ranges”, for 20 years. “It is the unknown person who was running the NSE and Ramkrishna was merely a puppet in his hands,” SEBI said.

Even after SEBI had sent the complaints filed against Ramkrishna to the NSE, Ramkrishna was still seeking guidance and directions from the unknown person, which is evident from the email dated September 25, 2016 from Ramkrishna to the unknown person. “Swami, we are still in preparation of the briefing note regarding the complaint. However, at least the prima facie responses to allegations have been prepared. I am placing the same for Thy guidance and directions. I shall send the cover note as soon as I have received it once again My Lord,” Ramkrishna said, according to the correspondence between Ramkrishna and the ‘yogi’ that SEBI released.

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“It is more than evident that it is the unknown person who was running the NSE and all the decisions of Ramkrishna were taken or influenced by the unknown person, up to the very end of her tenure,” SEBI said. Ramkrishna shared certain internal confidential information of NSE like organizational structure, dividend scenario, financial results, human resources policy and related issues, response to regulator etc. with the unknown person by addressing her correspondence to an email id rigyajursama@outlook.com (referred as ‘unknown person’/ rigyajursama@outlook.com) during the period 2014 to 2016.

It now emerges that the faceless “yogi” was responsible for the appointment of Subramanian as group operating officer and advisor to the MD. According to SEBI, Subramanian was allegedly an accomplice of the unknown person who influenced Ramkrishna’s decision and benefited by being re-designated as ‘Group Operating Officer and Advisor to MD’, with the compensation being paid to him increasing substantially every year.

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Ramakrishna is yet to react to the latest SEBI order. She did not respond to multiple queries sent by The Indian Express.

On Wednesday, the NSE said it operationalised the directives of SEBI on various matters over the years and has taken measures to further strengthen the control environment, including the technology architecture.

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“The said order relates to certain issues at NSE during the period 2013-2016 and are therefore almost 6-9 years old. In this regard, over the last few years there have been several changes at the Board and management level at NSE,” the statement said.

Chitra Ramakrishna’s statement to SEBI’s queries on the mysterious ‘yogi’.

SEBI: Can you please share the identity of the email id holder ‘rigyajursama@outlook.com’?

Ramkrishna*: The Siddha Purusha/Yogi is a Paramahansa who may be largely dwelling in the Himalayan Ranges. I have met him on occasions in holy places. No locational co-ordinates are given.

SEBI: Given the fact that the Siddha Purusha largely dwells in the Himalayan Ranges, kindly explain how He would have accessed emails and corresponded with you regularly.

Ramkrishna: To the best of my knowledge, their spiritual powers do not require them to have any such physical co-ordinates.

SEBI: Can you please share when you met him and who introduced you to him?

Ramkrishna: I met him for the first time on the banks of the Ganges nearly 20 years ago directly. Subsequently, over the years, I have taken his guidance on many personal and professional matters. Along the way, since he would manifest at will and I did not have any locational co-ordinates, I requested him for a way in which I could seek his guidance whenever I felt the need. Accordingly, he gave me an ID on which I could send my requests.

SEBI: Is the Siddha Purusha some person who was from NSE/NSE Governing Board at any point of time?

Ramkrishna: No, he is a spiritual force.

SEBI: Can you please elaborate as how the ‘Siddha Purusha’ was aware about a lot of intricate details on the functioning and hierarchy at NSE?

Ramkrishna: Largely, I would have provided that inputs.

SEBI: In the majority of correspondence, it is observed that Anand Subramanian was marked a copy. Please explain?

Ramkrishna: Primarily, I had clarity on issues that I sought. Who else and whom he would correspond with was outside my purview. He may have corresponded with many others too.

SEBI: As per the organisational structure and the governance principle, independently constituted board was available for consultation and guidance on aforesaid organisational matters. Please explain as to whether above consultation with the Siddha Purusha violates the principle of governance?

Ramkrishna: I would like to state that all discussions and guidance that are sought from board and or other available experts is always done. As an MD and CEO, before I am able to come to a perspective of my view only, the guidance is sought. It is only to enable me in my role to have a primary view. 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. Being spiritual in nature, there would never be a question of any confidentiality or integrity issues being compromised for the organisation. There would be no question of any personal gain because of the information shared. Hence, I felt that this would help me perform in the best interest of the organization.

* In the SEBI order, Ramkrishna has been mentioned as Noticee No 1

Ramkrishna met the unknown person several times: SEBI

According to SEBI, based on the e-mail correspondences between the unknown person and Ramakrishna and her statements to the regulator, it emerges that they allegedly met several times during the year 2015.

* In her statement to SEBI dated April 14, 2018, Ramkrishna submitted that she attended the meeting with the unknown person at the Swamimalai temple in Delhi and also met him on occasions in holy places.

* E-mail dated February 17, 2015 from the unknown person to the Ramakrishna said: “…p.s, keep bags ready I am planning a travel to Seychelles next month, will try if you can come with me, before Kanchan goes to London with Kaanchana and Barghava and you to New Zealand with two children. HK is a preferred transit or Singapore for onward journey. In case you need help pi let me know Seshu will do the needful. 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.”

* E-mail dated February 18, 2015 from the unknown person to Ramakrishna: “Today you are looking Awesome. You must learn different ways to platt your hair which will make your looks interesting and appealing!! Just a free advice, I know you will grab this. Keep March mid a little free.”

* E-mail dated February 25, 2015 from the unknown person to Ramkrishna: “…PS : I overheard with Kanchan when you said lets pack and leave, Get ready count down starts now I accommodate for Seychelles where you can chill it out.”

* E-mail dated September 16, 2015 from the unknown person to the Ramakrishna: “Did you hear that Makara Kundala song I sent? You must hear the resonance of that iterations. I am happy to see cheer, on your face and absolutely from your heart. I did rejoice the time yesterday with you. These small things you did for yourself make you feel younger and energetic.”

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First published on: 17-02-2022 at 01:37:03 pm

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