Sucheta Dalal :Structural changes (2 March 2003)
Sucheta Dalal

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Structural changes (2 March 2003)  

Vinod Dhall, Secretary Department of Company Affairs (DCA) had surprised market watchers with his generous offer to come over to Mumbai to ensure better cooperation and co-ordination with the capital market regulator Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India). The meeting was postponed several times and has never materialised. But now that the Finance Minister has slipped in an important organisational change in the Union Budget and has absorbed the DCA within the Finance Ministry, things may be different. The DCA and Sebi chief could now meet on a more level platform. After all if the DCA ‘no longer stands shoulder to shoulder with the Finance Ministry’, which is Sebi’s reporting ministry, then it is on par with Sebi. This fact alone will go a long way in resolving the open tension between the two regulators and lead to better supervision of the Indian corporate sector. After all, an Action Taken Report on the 2001 stock market scam has to be presented to Parliament under four months and so far, neither regulator has made any headway in their core supervisory function of nabbing those who engineered the massive price distortions.

Managing mobs

While trying to control unruly politicians who repeatedly disrupted Jaswant Singh’s Budget speech, Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi was totally at home. As a teacher by profession and a leader of a volatile party like the Shiv Sena, he seems perfectly suited for the post of the Speaker. A few hours later, one got a taste of the kind of crowds that Joshi was probably used to handling.

A little after the Finance Minister wrapped up his Budget speech in Parliament, a few hundred Shiv Sainiks were attacking former Navy Chief Vishnu Bhagwat outside the Communist Party of India (CPI) office at Prabhadevi in Mumbai. They were allegedly protesting Bhagwat’s utterances against the freedom fighter Veer Savarkar. Having attacked Bhagwat, the mob turned its fury on the building and the cars parked behind it (most of them had nothing to do with Bhagwat or the CPI). Less than a dozen unarmed policemen ineffectually tried to chase the mob, but it was a lost battle. A few photographers dodged the stone throwers and clicked pictures. Suddenly, part of the mob turned its attention to the opposite building, probably trying to find a few more cars to mangle. The protesters charged that they were being photographed by someone in the building. But what about the lensmen with them? Obviously, one should not expect logic from a Sena mob. Fortunately, a wannabe lady leader stepped up to issue some dire warnings and led the group away. Predictably, large police reinforcements arrived after the damage was done and dispersed the hangers-on. This would probably have been just part of the day’s work in Joshi’s life before he became Chief Minister, Union Minister and finally the Speaker—it is also probably routine for those shouting at Jaswant Singh in Parliament.

Open-end gains

Remember Morgan Stanley Growth Fund? The same one where investors stood in long queues or bought in the grey market in 1994, because the fantastic foreign fund managers were expected to double Net Asset Value (NAV) within weeks? After languishing below par for years the Fund shrank its size by buying back units and performance slowly improved until the NAV rose to Rs 12.28. However, investors got nothing except tiny dividends. An exit is expensive because the market price remains below par. For over a year now, Morgan Stanley’s investors have been lobbying for the Fund to go open-ended, in the hope that it will trade above par value and give them a decent exit option if they need one. But so far, Morgan Stanley has ignored investors and preferred to remain the only close-ended fund other than the Mastershare.

Harassing calls

They call on your mobile phone, wake up senior citizens with their afternoon calls, are rude, aggressive and a constant harassment. Yes, one is talking about the marketing agents for credit card companies and banks who pester people with phone calls, get more boorish by the day and unlike spam mail cannot be blocked. Moreover, they are so completely focussed on marketing that they don’t even want feedback. A reader who tried to tell Hong Kong Bank’s credit card agent that her husband had returned his credit card for deficient service and the bank hadn’t even bothered to ask why, had the phone banged down on her mid sentence. But it is unlikely that the agency will stop calling on behalf of the same bank.

-- Sucheta Dalal