NEW AMMO IN SEBI ARSENAL 

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By FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
  • Published 11.03.02
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New Delhi, March 11 :    New Delhi, March 11:  Alarmed at the spate of small and big market scams, the Union Cabinet intends to arm the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) with wide-ranging powers, including rights to search, seize and take any security-related document under custody, issue cease and desist orders against individuals and companies operating in the security market and even impound and retain proceeds from any securities market transaction. The department of economic affairs will approach the Cabinet this week seeking amendments to the Sebi Act of 1992. Initially, the ministry intended to grant Sebi some peripheral probe powers. However, under pressure from agencies like CBI and Sebi's own investigative branches as well as scathing comments from the Joint Parliamentary Committee which is investigating last year's securities scam, the ministry has been forced to consider arming Sebi with new and, in some cases, sweeping powers as well as strengthen its board. Sebi board's strength itself will now go up to nine from six at present. Besides the chairman, it will, in future, include three other full-time members. An independent selection committee will also be appointed to select members of the Sebi board instead of the current procedure of the finance ministry forwarding names to the Cabinet Committee on Appointments. The size of Sebi's Appellate Tribunal (SAT) is also being increased to a three-member bench from a single member board. While one member will be from the judicial profession, two others will have specialisation in capital markets. The new Sebi Act will now prescribe specific offences such as insider trading, fraudulent trade practices and market manipulations and define what constitutes such offences. To try and stop offences from being committed, or to enable it to investigate an offence, Sebi will have the right to prohibit issue of an offer document, probe any transaction which it suspects can be detrimental to investor interest or which may result in market manipulation. It can also search, seize and take under custody any document it feels necessary for its probe. It will have the right to probe any individual or company associated with the market for violation of the Sebi Act. Sebi is also being empowered to suspend trading of a security, restrain persons from buying or selling or otherwise dealing in the securities market and attach up to one month's bank accounts of brokers as well as impound and retain proceeds of any security transaction under investigation. Sebi will also have the right to issue and desist orders to a person, broking firm from committing any crime under this Act. It can also impose monetary penalties, which have not been specifically spelt out in the note now being put to the Cabinet. However, it is understood this could be in multiples of the amount involved in any given scam. It can also grant immunity to any person turning witness under the Sebi Act. The wide-ranging powers being given to Sebi come within a year of the bear scam on the stock market and former Sebi chief D.R Mehta complaints that his regulatory body lacks enough teeth to deal with market manipulations. The powers that Sebi is now being sought to be clothed with are still reportedly being resented by the broking community and insiders say an intense lobbying war is still going on over this issue.