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Sucheta Dalal: The Journalist Who Exposed Scam 1992

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What makes someone a hero?

Do you have to have superpowers? Do you have to be a role model for the masses? Do you have to bring about societal change? Or do you just have to make a permanent niche for yourself in the memories of others?

The definition of a hero is so fluid and ever-changing that sometimes, it is hard to distinguish a hero from an ordinary person. Sometimes, as history has often proved, it is hardest to differentiate a hero from a villain.

After all, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Journalist and Padma Shri recipient Sucheta Dalal is best known for uncovering the Harshad Mehta scam and bringing one of the biggest criminal masterminds in the Indian stock market to justice. Because of her efforts, the largest and the most audacious security fraud came to light.

In fact, it wasn’t even just Harshad Mehta. Sucheta was also responsible for uncovering the Ketan Parekh scam, the NSE co-location scam, the DHFL scam, as well as several other similar security market frauds. She has proved time and again that she is fighting for the sake of the retail investors. She is one of the only people who are brave enough to go after the big bad wolf that everyone avoids.

As she said in a 2009 interview with CNBC TV18,” Who pays the price? The broker defaults, the investors lose, but nothing happens to the clearing corporation which hasn’t done its job, nothing happens to the clearing brokers and banks.”

But how much of her efforts are actually appreciated by the masses?

How many people really know the face behind this quest for justice?

If you ask around, I am sure you will find more people who know about Harshad Mehta than about Sucheta Dalal. Especially with the launch of the popular Sony Liv web-series Scam 1992, Harshad Mehta with his flamboyant lifestyle and inherent charisma has gained a lot of popularity among viewers. There are countless news pieces dedicated to his story, and all of this has somehow, endeared him to people.

Ironically, Mehta has probably become more popular than the true hero of the story – Sucheta Dalal.

Who is the real Sucheta Dalal? What motivates her?

That is what we will attempt to discover in the course of this article.

Early Life

Sucheta Dalal was born in Mumbai, Maharashtra. She completed her graduation in Statistics, and then went on to pursue law from Bombay University. It was only after that that she got into journalism. She worked with The Times of India as a business journalist. It was here that she uncovered the scams and rose to fame as a vehicle for truth and justice.

Sucheta received the Padma Shri in 2006 for her outstanding work in the field of journalism.

These days, Sucheta and her husband Debashish Basu run their own organisation. She writes for the Sucheta Dalal MoneyLife magazine. Sucheta Dalal books and articles can be considered to be the pinnacle of investigative journalism.

Sucheta Dalal - Harshad Mehta Scam

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It was in 1992 that Sucheta’s suspicion fell on the Bachchan of Dalal Street himself. Following his steep rise to fame and his flamboyant lifestyle, it was only normal to wonder where his good luck was coming from. At that time, Harshad Mehta seemed to be living proof of the fact that anything could happen, that no matter how big your dreams were, they could always come true.

According to Dalal, Mehta’s “apparent stock-picking prowess had made him a media darling”. He seemed to possess the Midas touch – everything he touched turned to gold, and his net worth rose from insignificance to a few thousand crores in the span of a couple of years.

Sucheta Dalal Source: In the SonyLiv web-series ‘Scam 1992, Sucheta Dalal’s source is Sharad Bellary from SBI. This man, from the PR department at SBI, is believed to be Sucheta Dalal informant. Sucheta Dalal in Scam 1992 is played by Shreya Dhanwanthary.

Back then, however, the whole country naively believed that the man was credible. Perhaps we just like the idea of a fairy tale. Perhaps we like to stay hopeful of the fact that destinies can be rewritten and lives can be changed.

Whatever the reason may be, the fact remains that Sucheta was the only one who was not fooled by Mehta. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to go against a media favourite like him.

Once she started uncovering the details of the case, the extent of the scam started to become clearer.

It all unravelled when the SBI Chairman confirmed in an interview with Times of India that “the Big Bull had, indeed, paid back well over Rs. 500 crores out of the Rs. 770 crores in government securities that had vanished into the brokers’ account due to a ‘missing’ Subsidiary General Ledger (SGL) receipt.”

This meant, Mehta essentially used the money from several banks including SBI, to invest in the stock market. This is illegal, and in order to cover his tracks, Mehta resorted to the use of fake Bank Receipts and SGL Receipts.

Funnily enough, even this was not sufficient to bring down Harshad Mehta. He bounced back and re-entered the stock market.

It was only in 1998, when the rest of the story was revealed, that the kingpin was brought down. The final nail in his coffin was hammered in when the operations of the Damayanti group came to the fore. This group was essentially a front for carrying out the stock market manipulations. It was through the Damayanti group that Harshad Mehta manipulated the stock prices of companies like Videocon, BPL and Sterlite.

“SEBI hit pay dirt when it found a document from the Damayanti office which listed details of investments of Rs 1.46 billion in BPL, Videocon and Sterlite in the second week of June, which pertained to the BSE and NSE settlements of that period.” – Sucheta Dalal

Harshad Mehta met an unceremonious and untimely end in 2001, while in jail. He suffered from a heart attack and passed away at the age of 47.

Ketan Parekh Scam

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“On March 30, 2001, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested Ketan Parekh in connection with a Rs 1.37-billion loss to Bank of India on account of the default of a tiny Ahmedabad-based co-operative bank.” – Sucheta Dalal

The Ketan Parekh scam cropped up soon after the Harshad Mehta scam. In fact, it is a well-known fact that Ketan Parekh was Harshad Mehta’s disciple – he learned how to manipulate stocks from the master himself.

Ketan Parekh’s game was very similar to that of Harshad himself. One difference was that Parekh kept a low profile, and perfected the art of what Harshad began. Here, instead of pushing up high profile stocks, Parekh stuck to the manipulation of several small-scale, lesser-known companies. In fact, he picked ten companies and called them the K-10 stocks.

For instance, under his skilful manipulation, the price of the Zee telefilms shares rose from Rs. 127 to Rs. 10,000. Similarly, the price of Sonata Software increased to almost Rs. 3,000 from Rs. 90.

The other difference was in their personalities. Where Harshad lived a flamboyant lifestyle that earned him the moniker of the ‘Bachchan of Dalal Street’, Ketan Parekh lived a much more modest life. He stayed out of the public eye and avoided attention for a long time.

Well, clearly, he did not do enough.

Sucheta caught on to Ketan Parekh’s stock manipulation, and in her usual brazen and fearless style, she went after him. She was the only one who saw something amiss about Parekh’s rise to fortune – all the regulatory authorities ignored his activities.

She said in an interview with CNBC TV18, “Since they (SEBI) ignore him, he obviously strives in this marketplace”.

After his arrest, Ketan Parekh’s involvement in the manipulation of several stocks came to the fore, and as a result, he was banned from the stock market till 2017.

NSE Co-Location Scam

In 2015, a Singapore based hedge fund lodged a complaint about the fact that the National Stock Exchange of India was sharing sensitive data relating to its co-location with certain entities.

This means, selected players were allowed access to information relating to the market price, before the rest of the market. This created informational asymmetry in the stock market and allowed certain entities to manipulate the movement of stock prices. The brokers involved were able to garner immense amounts of profit by rigging the NSE trading algorithm.

Fearlessly, Sucheta spoke up against these unfair market practices that were being perpetrated by NSE itself.

Of course, NSE was not going to take this lying down.

They filed a defamation suit against Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu Moneylife magazine. However, the truth soon revealed itself and NSE was found guilty of the charges against them. In fact, NSE had to pay a settlement amount to both Sucheta and Debashish Basu.

DHFL Scam

The DHFL scam is more recent. In 2019, the promoters of the Dewan Housing Finance Limited were charged with an Rs. 31,000 crore financial fraud. DHFL is one of the largest NBFCs in India, and it is promoted by the Wadhawan family, primarily by Kapil Wadhawan.

This financial fraud was based on a simple premise. The Wadhawans siphoned money from the company by issuing large amounts of credit to what was later revealed to be shell companies. The money was then routed through several accounts before eventually finding its way back into the Wadhawans’ bank accounts.

Here, too, Sucheta Dalal’s foresight was the star of the show. She was the one who first discovered a connection between the Wadhawans and Iqbal Mirchi, the known member of the Dawood Ibrahim gang.

The Expose

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With every subsequent scam that has come forth, the various loopholes in the security and the banking system have been revealed, and the different amendments to SEBI’s regulatory powers have been introduced as a result.

Sucheta has been instrumental in this process.

In response to the Ketan Parekh scam, she said, “SEBI needs to do an investigation to find out how many brokerage firms actually do their business based on investors, whether its retail investors or retail speculators and how many of them exist for large operators as some kind of satellites and fronts, and that’s all their business is about.”

In this way, the cycle continues. Scam, revelation, amendment.

The question therefore is – is this how we should function?

Is our banking and security system designed to support such questionable activities?

Is prevention not better than cure?

Why should a person who is looking for truth and justice have to struggle so much to bring about change?

Road Ahead

Sucheta Dalal has taken the onus on herself. She is the one who is fighting for justice and against the forces of the world. She is the one who is on the side of the smaller retail investors who are the ones who always lose out.

Is this going to continue?

Is the responsibility for ensuring justice Sucheta’s alone?

There are several unanswered questions with regard to this, particularly considering the fact that we are only familiar with one side of the story. We understand that that is only the tip of the iceberg and that there is a lot that remains unsaid.

The quest for answers thus continues.

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Adrija