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If Supreme Court wants investors are paid back ASAP, Subrata Roy needs to stay free. Only he can meet the objective

Subrata Roy
subrata roy

After languishing for almost two years behind bars for ‘real’ reasons best known to SEBI, and out on bail in May on compassionate grounds after his mother passed away, Sahara India’s chief, Subrata Roy, has been asked by the Supreme Court to be sent back to jail after the completion of his bail period on September 23. His lawyer sought extension of bail, but our venerable Court said nothing doing. “You are going back to jail”!

Subrata Roy
Subrata Roy cannot pay back investors from jail

Now, imagine you are Subrata Roy. Well, you can’t actually experience the richness and the sumptuousness of being one of India’s first real industrialists, but visualize, still, on a human level, that it’s you who’s going in after tasting freedom of movement, fresh air, and loved ones around you for the shortest period of time… let’s forget about his guilt or the absence of it, for now.

He is going to be yanked out of plush bed and returned to steely, bug-laden jail bed, to a place where influence can get you only so much. It’s a jerk, a reminder of the existence of a slightly skewed justice system. It almost appears as if the Court and the SEBI do not want Sahara to pay what he owes.

Sources have revealed that Mr Roy, during his time out from jail, was sleeping less because he was gathering money by negotiating to sell his assets to pay back to the investors on Court’s orders. And just when he would have been gaining traction in this mammoth effort, he was crippled, restrained, and robbed of the opportunity to redeem himself. That’s how I read it.

Subrata Roy says that life in jail is painful, but he is stress-free and adamant.

If you want something done right, do it yourself…one is never served as well as by oneself. The ultimate objective of the entire case is that the investors get their money back. Punishing him after, and if, proven guilty can come later.

First, let’s find out the best possible way to ensure that the money is paid back to the people. That course can only be charted out by the man himself. Allow Subrata Roy to take upon the project himself. There is no indication or report that suggests he would run away. He understands his business better than any of his trusted lieutenants working on his behalf. He is a negotiator, a man who still receives a lot of respect for his work in the decades past. Only Subrata Roy has the chance and the Court should reasonably give it to him for the larger good.

Subrata Roy has quite a bit to explain, of course. In this long-running case, the Supreme Court had ordered Sahara in August 2012 to deposit with capital market SEBI over Rs. 24,000 crore collected from nearly three crore investors through issuance of certain bonds.

Sahara claims it has already paid a substantial portion of the amount. The Court doubts it and wants to know where he managed to pay the money from, what was the source. Fair question, perhaps, but by sending him back to the confines of four dilapidated prison walls, I doubt we are achieving any objective: to ensure that he pays his debts.

The Supreme Court cannot assume, ought not to, even prima facie, that he is guilty of all the allegations levied by SEBI. The market regulator, seemingly, has documented Subrata Roy’s assumed transgressions and has derived damning conclusions. Most importantly, those conclusions are acceptable to the Court.

Subrata Roy (right) with Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan
Subrata Roy (right) with Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan

One could argue that a man is innocent till proven absolutely guilty, but this virtuous value and belief has been slightly overlooked in this particular case.

It is the Supreme Court now which needs to display its priority. To ensure that investors are paid back as quickly as possible, which is only possible if Mr Roy is out there making deals, or continue to incarcerate him, even at the risk of failing to meet its ultimate purpose.