During his four decades of professional life, C Achuthan wore many impressive hats, but never let any of them get to his head. A Masters in Economics with a degree in law from the Bombay University, he joined the Indian Legal Service and served as a legal advisor to the central government. He also served on the Company Law Board before becoming the first presiding officer of the securities law appellate body, the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT), in 1997.
His six-year stint was marked with elaborate orders, running into hundreds of pages, many overturning decisions of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). Many of the country’s top lawyers pleaded cases before him. Some of the sensitive ones he dealt included the appeals by Sterlite Industries, BPL, Videocon, Anand Rathi Stock Brokers, Grasim (L&T takeover), Wimco, Clariant, Gujarat Ambuja (on ACC shares), Herbertson, Seamec and the Ketan Parekh cases.
Says Somasekhar Sundaresan, his colleague on many high-profile panels: “His lengthy and detailed judgements have contributed significantly to securities jurisprudence.”
After the eventful six-year stint, he helped set up Corporate Law Chambers, a firm specialising in securities law. Nobody needed his advice more in recent times than scam-hit Satyam Computers. T N Manoharan, also on the rescue board, reminisced how Achuthan used to meticulously read the meeting papers, line by line, and come prepared for each meeting. “He used to guide us on what exemptions to seek with the ministry and Sebi, which were very crucial in the takeover by Mahindra.”
Achuthan’s legal acumen and his work ethic during the Satyam episode impressed the powers that be and bigger tasks came his way. Sebi appointed him chairman of the Takeover Regulations Advisory Committee (TRAC) and the government nominated him to the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission (FSLRC).
Achuthan was conscious of the calls on fitness but did not let it come in the way of his work. “I’ve seen him readily skipping meals, going the extra mile, meticulously and, at times, painfully demanding that every stone be turned, and above all, demonstrating humility by example,” said Sundaresan who worked closely with him in both TRAC and FSLRC .
A K Narayan, who was member of TRAC, said Achuthan liked to listen. “He didn’t talk much. During the 20-25 meetings we had, he went about in an extremely disciplined manner. We used to deliberate all possible avenues before arriving at a decision. We are going miss a very knowledgeable, yet humble person.”Another official in the committee remembered his jovial personality, which would make any situation light. “He was very down-to-earth and was open to ideas. I am feeling bad that the code could not be finalised, while he was around.”
Sundaresan calls him a conservative jurist, who always had an open mind to arguments. “Fiercely independent in his thought process, he died at the feet of the only force he seemed subservient to, his deity, Ayyappan.”