-Effectiveness however doubtful!
Abhishek Saraf | Vinod Kothari and Company
SEBI observed that under the current remote e-voting framework, the participation of the public non institutional shareholders/ retail shareholders (shareholders) is at negligible level. One of the reasons behind such low participation may be due to reluctance of the shareholders to register with multiple e-voting service providers (ESPs) which provide the e-voting facility to the listed entities. Shareholders may be finding it a tedious task to register with multiple ESPs for casting their vote and maintain multiple user IDs and passwords for the said purpose.
In view of the same and with the intent to increase the optimum utilization of the remote e-voting process by shareholders, SEBI came out with consultative paper on 5th March 2020 to review the e-voting mechanism as provided by various ESPs.
Based on the public comments on consultative paper, SEBI vide its circular dated 09th December 2020 decided to enable the facility of a singly log in credential for the purpose of e-voting for all demat account holders.
This article covers the circular along with our analysis on the probable impact which SEBI intends to achieve by way of easing and at the same time securing the remote-e-voting process for shareholders.
The existing mechanism requires shareholders to register themselves with ESPs and have a separate login credential for each ESP to be able to cast their vote on resolutions proposed to be passed at the general meetings. The same can be explained better with the help of the following example:
Suppose a shareholder Mr. S holds shares in 3 companies and these companies appoint different ESPs for providing remote e-voting facility to vote on the resolutions proposed to be passed at their respective general meeting.
Now the shareholder shall register himself with all the 3 ESPs and have a separate login credential for each ESP to be able to cast his vote. Under the given situation, the shareholder may find it tedious and therefore, skip the whole process itself. The notice calling the general meeting contains the instruction for logging in the portal of the Depository in the following manner:
SEBI’s move to increase remote-e-voting
With an intent to address the issue of negligible voting by the shareholders, SEBI has introduced a mechanism to make e-voting process more secure, convenient and simple for shareholders under which the shareholder will be allowed to cast their vote directly through their demat accounts/ Depositories/ Depositories Participants without having to go through the hassle of registering with various ESPs and maintaining a list of multiple user IDs and passwords. In the process, only a single login credential will be enough for the shareholders to participate in remote e-voting and register their vote in respect of any item.
The existing process as envisaged above will be replaced with a single doorstep which will be accessed by a single login credential under which the shareholder shall be allowed to vote without any further authentication by ESPs.
By taking the help of the above example, the new facility can be explained in the following manner-
Under the new facility, Mr. S does will not have to maintain login credentials for all the 3 ESPs but only have to register with the Depository either directly or through his demat accounts with Depsoitory Participants to have access to all the ESPs through a single log in without additional authentication with ESPs. This has been explained in detail below.
The facility shall be implemented in 2 phases.
Under Phase -1:
SEBI has instructed to implement the process as provided in Phase-1 within 6 months of the date of the circular (i.e. within 9th June 2021).
Shareholders with demat accounts have been provided the option to either directly register with Depositories to access the e-voting page of various ESPs through websites of the Depositories or accessing various ESP portals directly from their demat accounts, through the facility provided by the depository without any further authentication by ESPs, for participation in the e-voting process.
SEBI has instructed to implement Phase 2 within 12 months from the completion of the process in Phase 1.
Under the 2nd phase, it has been proposed to further enhance the convenience and security of the system with the help of One Time Password (OTP) verification mechanism wherein the shareholders will be allowed to login through registered mobile number or E-mail based OTP verification as an alternate in place of logging through username and password for cases where shareholders have directly registered with the Depository
Further for logging in through demat account with the DPs, a second factor authentication using mobile or e-mail based OTP shall also be introduced after logging in.
While the SEBI circular requires implementation in two phases, the consultative paper was different on the following fronts:-
- Consultative paper did not provide for implementation of the mechanism in a phased manner;
- It was proposed that only the Depositories will be required to establish a dedicated helpline unlike the SEBI circular where both Depositories and ESPs are required to have a dedicated helpline;
- The consultative paper proposed that the ESPs shall send details of the votes cast, to the shareholders, via SMS/ Email whereas the circular places the responsibility of sending a confirmatory SMS on the Depository based on the confirmation received from ESPs.
- Sharing of necessary details and logs by Depositories with ESPs and sharing of electronic logs and other related information with respect to e-voting transactions with Depositories by ESPs as proposed in the consultative paper has been done away with in the circular.
To dos for Depositories and ESPs
- Accountable for authentication – The Depository has been made responsible to carry out the authentication of the shareholders and voting will be allowed by ESPs based on the Depository’s authentication.
- Flash messages/ reminders – Another step taken to increase participation is SMS/ email alerts by the Depository to the demat account holders atleast 2 days prior to the date of the commencement of e-voting. The listed entity shall provide the details of its upcoming AGMs requiring voting to Depository who shall then send a SMS/ email alerts.
- Dedicated helpline – Depositories to establish a dedicated helpline to resolve technical difficulties faced by shareholders relating to the e-voting facility
- Dedicated helpline- listed companies shall ensure that the ESPs engaged by them also provide a dedicated helpline in this regard.
- Better Disclosure- To enable shareholders to take informed decisions while voting on any proposed resolution of a Company, ESPs has been instructed to provide web-link to the disclosures made by the Company on the stock exchange website and report on the website of the proxy advisors.
This framework for one stop log-in has only been made mandatory in respect of public non-institutional shareholders/ retail shareholders and the existing process may continue for all physical shareholders and shareholders other than individuals viz. institutions/ corporate shareholders. Further, SEBI’s perception on the current shareholder participation is based on its public consultation and is probably because, the shareholders are not taking the trouble of registering themselves with the various ESPs.
The step taken by SEBI towards a more democratic participation of the shareholders may be effective in the long run. However, its current effectiveness seems to be doubtful unless the shareholders for whom the same has been made, find it useful and be ready to implement the same.