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Chitra Ramkrishna, the NSE CEO who let a faceless conman ‘yogi’ make all key decisions

PALAK SHAH | | Updated on: Feb 12, 2022
Chitra Ramkrishna

Chitra Ramkrishna

The curious case of former NSE CEO Chitra Ramakrishna and the invisible hand of a yogi who virtually ran India’s largest exchange

  Chitra Ramkrishna, the former CEO and MD of NSE, India’s largest stock exchange with a combined market capitalisation of close to $4 trillion, was guided by a yogi residing in the Himalayas for the appointment of Anand Subramanian, little-known in the industry, as the exchange’s chief operating officer (COO) in 2013. The appointment cost NSE ₹5 crore.

The revelations are part of SEBI’s final order on Friday after a probe against Ramakrishna, NSE, and four others. The order was released on Friday and available on the market regulator’s website.

Ramkrishna referred to the unknown yogi as “Sironmani” [the exalted one] and shared with him information such as NSE’s five year projections, financial data, dividend ratio, business plans, agenda of board meeting, and even consulted him on employee performance appraisals.

Ramkrishna was ousted from NSE in 2016 for her role in the co-location and algo trading scam and abuse of power in the appointment of Subramanian. The probe found that Ramkrishna ran NSE with impunity. No one from the senior management, board, or the promoters — which include big government institutions and banks — ever objected to her ways. Instead, Ramkrishna was given ₹44 crore as pending dues and salary when she left NSE.

SEBI’s probe revealed that Ramkrishna communicated with the yogi, whom she had never met, over email, for almost 20 years and he guided her to appoint Subramanian as the second in command at NSE. “Their spiritual powers do not require them to have any such physical coordinates and would manifest at will,” Ramkrishna told SEBI. The contents of the email were not denied by her. 

On January 18, 2013, Subramanian was offered the role of Chief Strategic Advisor at NSE for an annual compensation of ₹1.68 crore against his last drawn salary (as per his claim) of ₹15 lakh at Balmer Lawrie. In March 2014, Ramkrishna approved a 20 per cent increment to Subramanian and his salary was revised to ₹2.01 crore. Five weeks thereafter, Subramanian’s salary was again revised upwards by 15 per cent to ₹2.31 crore as Ramkrishna dubbed his performance to be A+ (exceptional). By 2015, his cost-to-company had zoomed to ₹5 crore, he was given a cabin next to Ramkrishna and granted first-class international air travel. All this was in accordance with the yogi’s instructions.

An email from the unknown yogi even carried the diktat that Subramanian be exempt from the contractual 5-day work week and instead be asked to come only for three days and allowed to work the rest of the time at will.

Another email on September 5, 2015, from the yogi told Ramkrishna, “SOM, if I had the opportunity to be a person on Earth then Kanchan is the perfect fit. Ashirvadhams.” On December 30, 2015, Ramkrishna told the Yogi in her reply, “SIRONMANI, struggle is I have always seen THEE through G, and challenged myself to on my own realise the difference.” ‘SOM’ refers to Ramkrishna, and ‘Kanchan’ and ‘G’ refer to Subramanian, the SEBI probe revealed.

These findings were confirmed by Dinesh Kanabar, the then Chairman of NSE nomination and remuneration committee. Subramanian had all the powers of the MD and CEO, and was flying first class, but remained a consultant on paper. SEBI had observed that there was a glaring conspiracy of a money making scheme involving NSE’s boss with the unknown person.

An email dated February 18, 2015, from Ramkrishna to the unknown yogi, reads, “The role and designation of Group Chief Coordination Officer is fine and we could take that forward. I have a small submission, can we make this as Group President and Chief Coordination Officer? And over a time frame as you direct we can move the entire operations of the exchange under G and redesignate him as Chief Operating Officer? Seek Your guidance on the path forward on this Swami If this meets with your Highness’ approval, then parallelly could we coin JR (Ravi) as Group President Finance and stakeholder relations and Corporate General Counsel?”

The reply reads, “I have the following questions that will place all of you in an awkward situation. I buy your argument and analysis, interesting but have not got my answers from your own concerns. If on one hand I call JR a President who is a KMP (key management person) the other person, how can he/she be excused? Is it subjective? Competitors bring new faces much below par at intelligent levels and functional expertise, they bring all as COO and VP, we are bringing a legitimate case here which needs introspection. I have never suggested any changes in reporting of trading and other verticals, I am only trying to initiate the importance of levels within the organisation. So from a strategic perspective, can I bring the title Group COO since subsidiaries also report to him and acceptable to all. Larger the thoughts, clearer our stand, postures become easier. ASHIRVADHAMS, a revert on this is good for one and all. GNANA VEL.”

The SEBI order said, “It is not unusual that the whip of an arbitrary and dictatorial reign would cause any employee to be reluctant in filing a complaint against its top leader in fear of the repercussions. This is evident from the various anonymous complaints received by SEBI against Ramkrishna, from which these proceedings have emanated and various irregularities unearthed.” 

Yet, Ramkrishna was made NSE’s MD and CEO in 2013 with a powerful politician in Delhi backing her, sources told BusinessLine. A forensic audit showed that only Ramkrishna and Subramanian were imaged/checked while the laptops assigned to them were disposed of as e-waste by NSE. Even their personal emails were not available for forensic audit. 

Ramkrishna told SEBI that at the time, neither the compensation committee, NRC, nor the board of the NSE had ever raised any query in relation to these issues, nor was any issue in this regard ever brought to her attention. Ashok Chawla, a former bureaucrat in the Finance Ministry and then Chairman of NSE, accepted Ramkrishna’s resignation due to personal reasons and the board appreciated her sterling contribution to the growth of the organisation.

For all this, SEBI’s punishment to Ramkrishna is paltry. Ramkrishna has now been barred from capital markets for three years and SEBI has directed the NSE to forfeit the excess leave encashment of ₹1.54 crore and the deferred bonus of ₹2.83 crores.

Published on February 12, 2022

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