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Tea party had finance minister's nod: Punita

- Jayant Sinha's wife defends social event and boardroom assignments

New Delhi, July 10: Punita Kumar-Sinha, the wife of Jayant Sinha who was shifted out of the finance ministry last week, has defended her boardroom assignments and a tea party that have been blamed for her husband's transfer.

"I have my own successful professional life and my career does not keep changing depending on which ministry my husband is in. I have to do what I have been doing for 25-30 years," Kumar-Sinha has conveyed to The Telegraph in her first comments on the controversy.

Punita Kumar-Sinha, Jayant Sinha and Arun Jaitley

In a "clarification" issued in response to reports, including in this newspaper, on the circumstances that preceded Sinha's transfer, Kumar-Sinha added that the tea party was hosted at her house with the permission of the finance minister and her husband's then boss, Arun Jaitley, who was also present at the social event. The version could not be corroborated with the finance minister. Neither hosting nor attending a tea party flouts any law. It was reported that people not associated with the government were among the guests.

"I have fully disclosed all my boards to all relevant authorities," she said in the "clarification" that came a few days after reports in the media suggested that her induction as a board member of some companies after Sinha took over as the junior minister for finance had raised eyebrows.

Kumar-Sinha listed her educational background, including an alumnus award from IIT Delhi, and professional experience on Wall Street to say that she had earned her assignments on her own steam.

The following is the "clarification" sent by Kumar-Sinha to this newspaper:

"There is no reason to make an issue of the fact that I was on the boards of companies as a non-executive, independent director while my husband was a minister. Non-executive independent directors on boards do not make day-to-day decisions for the company and are trustees for the shareholders. In India, independent directors cannot be awarded any equity shares or engage in any material transactions with the companies they serve on. If there is any possibility of conflict, the concerned independent director recuses himself or herself from those specific decisions.

"I was on seven company boards of the 10 allowed before he (Jayant Sinha) became a minister of state, finance, and I joined a few after his induction. For the ones that I joined after his induction as a minister, discussions were already under way with many of these companies because the 2013 Companies Act (passed by the UPA government) mandated the representation of women on boards as independent directors and that deadline was approaching, and I am an experienced board member with a strong set of board-relevant skills. You will find that many experienced women joined boards during this period.

"I have my own successful professional life and my career does not keep changing depending on which ministry my husband is in. I have to do what I have been doing for 25-30 years.

"I have fully disclosed all my boards to all relevant authorities.

"As for the tea party hosted at Jayant Sinha's residence for MPs, bank officials, and finance ministry officials, my husband took the permission of the Hon'ble finance minister to do it at our residence. It was a social event to celebrate the passing of the bankruptcy legislation and not a meeting as some have suggested. The Hon'ble finance minister was himself present. Several other spouses were also present, and if there is a social event in my house, it is but expected that I would be there.

"( On an old controversy linking her to a decision of the then government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Mauritius-based foreign institutional investors) The Mauritius investment route was established long before my father-in-law (Yashwant Sinha) became the finance minister. The fund I used to manage was set up before he became finance minister. Hundreds of funds have invested in India through the Mauritius route. The treaty continued for another 14 years after my father-in-law left the finance ministry. Other finance ministers in successor governments saw the merits of keeping it going. So, why put the blame on us? My father-in-law is someone who will never do anything unethical.

"I have a master's and PhD in finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, an MBA and a CFA. I am an alumnus of IIT Delhi - and one of only three women to get the distinguished alumnus award from IIT Delhi; have built a very successful career on Wall Street in the US; and I have reached where I am because I have worked hard."

 


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