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Sebi signals a new trend: Summons and notices to come via WhatsApp, Telegram

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Mumbai: The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) will now send show cause notices, summons and orders to securities law offenders via instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal, a move that will make the processes speedier and efficient.

This will be in addition to the normal mode of communication including electronic mail, registered post, courier and fax.

“The law and regulation concerning the securities market and the regulatory framework continues to see dynamic changes from time to time,” said Zerick Dastur, founder of Zerick Dastur, advocates and solicitors. “In an effort to smoothen the system of adjudication and issuance of timely processes, the manner of service of notices and orders has also undergone changes to meet with the needs of time.”

On July 11, 2020, the Supreme Court agreed in principle that serving notices and summons, integral to the judicial processes, through instant messaging services like WhatsApp and Telegram in addition to emails would be legally valid.

A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde, and Justices R S Reddy and A S Bopanna agreed with the suggestions of attorney general K K Venugopal and solicitor general Tushar Mehta that notices through email would constitute a valid delivery mechanism.

It said that this innovation was needed as physical delivery of notices during lockdown periods has been difficult.

“This practice that has been initiated by the Supreme Court is now being followed not only by the Delhi High Court but also by district courts and also financial authorities. Recently, a financial authority in Chandigarh, Mr. Ashok Khemka, has also issued a notice to a respondent residing in Nepal through WhatsApp,” said Supreme Court advocate Pratap Venugopal.

Lawyers said the mandate of serving documents by multiple means will also act as a check against any possible attempt on the part of recipients to avoid receiving notices.

“Right from physical delivery to speed post or courier service to e-mail or fax to WhatsApp (now), the modes of serving judicial documents have continually evolved over time. In this backdrop, this initiative of the Supreme Court is a breath of fresh air and a major leap in the step-by-step evolution of the process service in India,” Venugopal said.

The ‘blue-tick’ feature of WhatsApp is used by the courts to determine whether the recipient has seen the service of the document..”Sebi has quickly utilised the judgement and recommended to the ministry of finance to legislate it for Sebi orders and notices even in non-lock-down situations,” said Sumit Agrawal, managing partner, Regstreet Law Advisors & former Sebi Officer.

“Indian securities market is functioning in a near 100% demat environment where mobile numbers and email ids are available in databases of depositories and other intermediaries through KYCs (know your client), effecting service by instant messaging services and email will reduce delays and increase efficiency.” Agrawal said.