Chitra Ramkrishna, 59, a chartered accountant by training, held a leadership position with the NSE since its inception in 1991. Chitra Ramkrishna, who is credited with being a key player in the establishment and growth of the National Stock Exchange (NSE), experienced a steeper fall than a steep rise.
Chitra Ramkrishna has faced sanctions from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on at least three occasions in the last three years due to his involvement in several illegal activities as CEO of the exchange. But the latest SEBI order, which imposed more fines on Ramkrishna and others who ran NSE operations, has revealed a bizarre aspect of corporate mismanagement at the top bourse – Ramkrishna allegedly collaborated with an unknown ‘yogi’ to run the exchange.
Since the NSE’s inception in 1991, Chitra Ramkrishna, 59, has been affiliated with the NSE in a leadership role. She was a member of the core five-member team selected by the government to create a screen-based pan-Indian stock exchange in the early 1990s to enable clean and transparent trading at a time when the BSE was affected by the Harshad Mehta scandal.
Chitra Ramkrishna and her predecessor at the NSE, Ravi Narain, were both hand-picked from the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) by its then Chairman S S Nadkarni, who later became SEBI Chairman. She also worked briefly for the market regulator SEBI in 1985 before joining the NSE. Ramkrishna began her career with IDBI’s project finance division in 1985.
Narain and Ramkrishna were part of the core team that set up the NSE along with R H Patil, the first Managing Director. Upon the end of Narain’s tenure, the NSE Board appointed her to the position of Managing Director and CEO for a period of five years, starting on April 1, 2013. Observers of the NSE agree that she and Patil, as well as Narain, played an instrumental role in transforming NSE into India’s largest stock exchange with the support of institutions, SEBI, and the government.
According to statistics maintained by the Futures Industry Association (FIA), a US-based organization that represents futures commission merchants, NSE was the world’s largest derivatives exchange by number of contracts traded in 2021. According to the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE), the NSE ranks fourth in the world in cash equities by number of trades.
However, on December 2, 2016, Chitra Ramkrishna resigned as Managing Director and CEO of the Exchange, presumably due to differences with some Board members. Corruption charges followed shortly thereafter.
SEBI asked the NSE to disgorge Rs 624.89 crore and 12 percent interest to the Investor Protection and Education Fund (IPEF) in April 2019. The co-location case at the bourse saw some brokers connect to the system with better hardware specs, which allowed them unwarranted access and profits when compared to other investors. During 2010-11 to 2013-14, SEBI estimated that NSE earned Rs 624.89 crore from its co-location business.
Chitra Ramkrishna was also asked to refund a quarter of her salary for FY14 and prohibited from associating with a listed company or a market infrastructure institution for a period of five years. SEBI imposed a monetary penalty of Rs 50 lakh on the NSE in August 2020 for changing the terms of Ramkrishna’s remuneration and giving her a higher parting sum when she resigned. Stock exchanges must acquire permission from SEBI before approving their compensation packages. During Ramkrishna’s tenure as MD and CEO, she earned Rs 44 crore and another Rs 23 crore in total remuneration during the last eight months of her tenure.
NSE, Ramkrishna and Narain, their former MDs and CEOs, and others were penalized by SEBI on February 11, 2022, for violating securities contract rules concerning the appointment of Anand Subramanian as group operating officer and MD advisor. Ramkrishna was fined Rs 3 crore, Narain and Subramanian were fined Rs 2 crore each, and V R Narasimhan, the chief regulatory officer and compliance officer, was fined Rs 6 lakh. It has become clear that those at the helm of the exchange operated the exchange in a bizarre and illegal manner, as exposed by a recent SEBI order.
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 sent the complaints filed against Ramkrishna to the NSE, Ramkrishna sought guidance and direction from the unknown person, as can be seen in this email sent by Ramkrishna to the unknown person dated September 25, 2016. “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.
“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. While Ramkrishna shared certain internal NSE information with the unknown person, including organizational structures, dividend scenarios, financial results, human resources policies, responses to regulators, etc., by addressing her correspondence to an email address [email protected] (referred to as the ‘unknown person’/ [email protected]) during the period 2014 to 2016.
The faceless “yogi” was responsible for the appointment of Subramanian as group operating officer and MD advisor. According to SEBI, Subramanian had been an accomplice of the unknown person who influenced Ramkrishna’s decision, benefiting from Ramkrishna’s decision by gaining the title of ‘Group Operating Officer and Advisor to MD’ as well as receiving substantial yearly compensation.
The latest SEBI order has not yet been reacted to by Ramakrishna. Several queries sent by The Indian Express went unanswered.
The NSE announced on Wednesday that it has operationalised SEBI’s directives on various matters over the years and has taken steps to further strengthen the control environment, including technology architecture.
“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 response to SEBI’s inquiries about the mysterious yogi.
SEBI: Could you please let me know who owns the email address [email protected]?
Ramkrishna: A Siddha Purusha/Yogi is a Paramahansa who may reside mostly in the Himalayan Ranges. I have met him in holy places on several occasions. No locational co-ordinates are given.
SEBI: Given that the Siddha Purusha primarily lives in the Himalayan Ranges, please explain how He would have access to emails and corresponded with you on a regular basis.
Ramkrishna: As far as I know, their spiritual powers do not require them to have such physical coordinates.
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. Over the years, I have taken his advice on a number of 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 a member of NSE/NSE Governing Board at any point in time?
Ramkrishna: No, he is a spiritual force.
SEBI: Could you please elaborate on how the ‘Siddha Purusha’ was aware of so many intricate details about NSE’s functioning and hierarchy?
Ramkrishna: Largely, I would have provided that inputs.
SEBI: The majority of correspondence indicated that Anand Subramanian was a copy. Can you explain?
Ramkrishna: Primarily, I had clarity on issues that I sought. Whether he corresponded with anyone else was outside my purview. He may have corresponded with many others as well.
SEBI: As per the organisational structure and the governance principle, a board independently constituted was available for consultation and guidance on the aforesaid organisational matters. Can you explain whether the above consultation with the Siddha Purusha violates the principle of governance?
Ramkrishna: I would like to clarify that all discussions and guidance that are sought from the board and or other available resources are always carried out. Prior to forming a view that is solely mine, as an MD and CEO, I seek guidance. To enable me to have a primary view in my role. It is common for senior leaders to seek out informal advice from coaches, mentors, or other senior members of the industry that is purely informal in nature. Similarly, I felt that this guidance would enable me to perform better in my role. Due to the spiritual nature of the work, any confidentiality or integrity issues would never arise promised for the organisation. There would not be any question of any personal gain arising from the sharing of information. Hence, I felt that this would help me perform in the best interest of the organization.