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The man whom demat traders must fear

By N Mahalakshmi
Last updated on: May 08, 2006 12:48 IST
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Early morning on April 27, when he was performing his amavasya tarpanam, a Brahminical ritual to satisfy three generations of ancestors, he must have done it with greater devotion and sincerity than ever.

For he knew deep inside he needed the blessings of everyone, including his ancestors, in the days to come. Later that day, G Anantaraman, wholetime member, the Securities Exchange Board of India, passed an order banning 24 market intermediaries including some leading brokers. Something that he and his team of two had worked on for several months finally made headlines in all the newspapers in the country.

The man behind Sebi's makeover

The 256-page order was significant, not the least because it unearthed the way some shrewd operators had ensured themselves high allotment in IPO by applying through thousands of applications, which was illegal.

It exposed the slipshod attitude of several leading banks and the negligence of the depositories. And more importantly, it was a statement, which visibly demonstrated the strength of the Sebi investigation team.

Yet if the regulator had to contend with severe criticism the following day for holding back its order against leading broking firm Indiabulls after hearing the firm's objections, it was because Anantaraman believes more in fair play than institutional ego.

The Indiabulls episode could have been easily avoided by giving it an opportunity to defend itself before passing the order, but, in his own words, "it would not have been fair to give the opportunity of pre-decisional hearing to select participants...  and given the market dynamics and time constraint, a pre-decisional hearing may not have been feasible for all".

A quintessential 'Tambram', and a retired chief commissioner of income tax, Anantaraman is certainly complementing Sebi chairman M Damodaran in bringing order to the market place while putting its own house in order.

His greatest contribution during his less than two-year stint at Sebi has been to shrug off the image of a lax regulator through thorough investigation and focused action.

The bigger achievement, though, is to manage to do his duty upholding the highest levels of integrity in a place where there are forces working against you constantly - whether from outsiders, or insiders who would be envious of his success.

Otherwise, for someone who has spent two-thirds of his life investigating cases related to tax evasion with terrific success, it must be pretty easy to nail the small crooks in the stock market.

To be sure, Anantaraman has a record of passing at least a couple of hundred orders ever since he stepped into Sebi nearly a couple of years ago. But it is not just the number that merit attention, but the quality of investigation that is visible in many of these orders.

For the record, the outgoing presiding officer of the Securities Applellate Tribunal Justice Kumar Rajaratnam (who determined the fate of regulatory orders in umpteen court cases till some months ago) referred to Sebi's Yes Bank order as a classic example of a meticulously investigated and carefully worded order.

That order was just the trailer of the thriller that hit the Sebi website last week. Anantaraman is famous for having exposed multiple-account fraud in the early 1990s when he was part of the income tax department.

Anantaraman has no particular active hobbies, except browsing through newspapers and magazines that interest him and reading a lot of work-related stuff.

He loves home food, listening to Carnatic music - T V Shankarnarayanan from the older generation and Sudha Ragunathan from among contemporary musicians are his favourite vocalists. Just nothing can distract Anantaraman except Shanmukapriya raga in which he says he can get "lost".

Anantaraman is due for retirement in the middle of next month. Sebi may find it rather difficult to find someone "for whom work is worship and who deserves his place in the sun" in the words of Sebi's chairman.
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N Mahalakshmi
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