After Moneylife wrote (three issues ago, 23 September 2010) about some 1,500 scrips being in suspended animation, even as the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is set to tweak the takeover and delisting rules, intermediaries and investors are writing to protest the lack of action. Suspension of scrips, or delisting them, punishes investors and helps companies who want to ditch their retail shareholders after raising funds from them. Companies merely need to violate the listing rules by refusing to pay the fees or making correct disclosures. Meanwhile, investors are stuck. They continue to pay the annual depository charges and cannot even close the DP account without transferring the shares; re-materialising them involves a further cost on what could be a worthless share. An intermediary tells us that, at present, of the 1,537 scrips suspended from trading, just 673 companies account for a combined equity capital of Rs14,119 crore. Virendra Jain of the Midas Touch Investors Association says that nearly 800 companies file returns regularly. But, in most cases, investors are clueless. Among the scrips that investors say they are clueless about are: Assambrook Ltd which was suspended on 3 July 2008 where around 8,000 investors, who hold 64% of the equity, are affected. While tea companies are doing well, shareholders of Assambrook are stuck with illiquid stock even though the shares were trading at Rs15 when it was suspended. Two others are: Delhi-based Talbros Engineering and Cochin-based Vysali Pharmaceuticals.
Interestingly, investors have repeatedly taken up this issue with CB Bhave, even when he headed the National Securities Depository Ltd (NSDL), but have not made much headway. One reason may be that most of these scrips are listed on the (older) Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), whose turnover has steadily shrunk over the past 15 years to just under 4% of the total market, even though it has more than 3,000-odd shares listed on it with negligible trading. Clearly, it is unfair, and expensive, for the BSE to bear the cross for legacy issues. The regulator needs to step in on behalf of investors and make investor protection funds available to pursue these companies, initiate action against directors (one committee had suggested barring them from the boards of all companies) and file winding-up proceedings against the companies.
Meanwhile, several investors and intermediaries have innovative ideas to revive trading in these scrips, if only the regulator would listen. One suggestion sent to Moneylife is to transfer these shares to one of the 20 defunct regional bourses which can provide an over-the-counter (OTC) platform to trade the shares and give them liquidity. These would be like the bulletin boards or pink-sheet exchanges that exist abroad, with lower regulatory requirements. Clearly, this and other suggestions need to be examined by the regulator to find a solution — Sucheta Dalal