Mumbai: A month after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) ordered Sahara India Financial Corp. Ltd, India’s largest residuary non-banking company, to wind down its public deposit base by 2015 in phases, the company is claiming that it has invested all its deposits in financial instruments, including government bonds and fixed deposits of banks, in accordance with the norms laid down by the Indian central bank.
This portent of a new standoff between the two sides emerged in an unusual “fact sheet” that was published as an advertisement by the powerful Uttar Pradesh-based unlisted company in various newspapers, making public some financial details, perhaps for the first time in 21 years of Sahara’s existence.
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Some of the claims in the fact sheet are in variance with the reasons cited by RBI in trying to put limits on Sahara’s activities.
The fact sheet comes just weeks after RBI, in the first week of June, first banned Sahara from accepting public deposits from any person in any form—whether by way of fresh deposits, or renewal of the deposits, or otherwise—with immediate effect. One of the main reasons behind the banking regulator’s move was Sahara’s alleged continuous violation of investment norms.
But after several meetings between the central bank and Sahara India executives and the involvement of two separate courts, RBI, on 17 June, passed a fresh order allowing Sahara to accept fresh deposits maturing until 30 June 2011.
In its fact sheet, which is also available in Hindi on the company’s website (www.sifo.in), an unaudited and abridged balance sheet, ended 30 June, says the firm has invested Rs17,584.46 crore, which is more than 100% of its aggregate liability to depositors in RBI-directed investments.
According to that fact sheet, Sahara posted a Rs375.75 crore profit before tax and depreciation for fiscal 2008, ended 30 March. This includes profit from sale of assets and group company shares worth Rs133.07 crore. However, the fact sheet does not talk about the firm’s net profit.
It says Sahara has mobilized Rs59,076.26 crore worth of deposits (including interest) since its inception in 1987 and paid back its depositors Rs41,563.06 crore (including interest) so far. However, it doesn’t say anything about unclaimed deposits lying with itself.
Along with a charge of continuous violation of investment norms, RBI had also alleged that Sahara did not follow rules regarding payment of prescribed minimum rate of interest to depositors; asset-liability management guidelines; “know your customers” norms for opening deposits; and failed to intimate depositors when their deposits matured.
As on 30 June, Sahara says it had 39.4 million deposit accounts and 685,000 workers involved in “business promotion”.
For the fiscal 2008, it had a capital adequacy ratio of 28.78%, with capital and reserves worth Rs1,711.12 crore.
The fact sheet also mentions names of the company’s three independent directors: Amitabha Ghosh, former deputy governor of RBI; Brijendra Sahay, former chief secretary of the government of Uttar Pradesh; and Madhukar, former whole-time member of markets regulator Securites and Exchange Board of India.
Sahara India declined to respond to an email query on the firm’s net profit, unclaimed deposits and investments. The company’s board is meeting on Tuesday to take into account the unaudited results for the quarter ended 30 June.
RBI had banned Sahara from accepting public deposits on 4 June, but the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court stayed the order the next day. The banking regulator then moved the Supreme Court to lift the stay. The country’s apex court on 9 June had directed the regulator to hear Sahara India once again before arriving at a final decision.
Going public: Sahara India ads gave some financial details, perhaps for the first time in the 21 years of the company’s existence. ( Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint)
As Mint reported on 18 June, in papers filed with the Supreme Court, the central bank claimed Sahara failed to invest $280 million of its $4.3 billion in deposits in the required low-risk bonds. The bank also said Sahara doesn’t keep required information such as home addresses of more than 70% of its customers, many of whom are illiterate.
RBI also accused Sahara of slashing depositors’ interest payments whenever they fall behind on their instalments. With penalties currently applied to more than 70% of Sahara’s existing customers, many receive only 1% a year in interest on their savings. “Small depositors in the lower strata of society are being exploited,” RBI said in the filing.
In its 17 June order, RBI also directed Sahara to repay the deposits as and when they mature and bring down the aggregate liability to depositors to zero on or before 30 June 2015. According to the RBI order, Sahara’s deposit liability should not exceed Rs15,000 crore as of 30 June 2009, Rs12,600 crore as of 30 June 2010, and Rs9,000 crore as of 30 June 2011.
This means Sahara will have to pare its deposit base by Rs2,513 crore by June 2009.
Sahara has also been instructed to appoint statutory auditors from the panel of auditors suggested by RBI by 31 August and continue to appoint statutory auditors each year from a panel suggested by the regulator until all depositors are repaid in full.
Sahara is part of the Subrata Roy-led Sahara group that has interests in finance, entertainment, real estate and media. Sahara group also publishes a Hindi-language paper that competes in some markets with Hindustan, published by HT Media Ltd, which also publishes Mint.