India's boardrooms scramble to appoint women before deadline

MUMBAI (AFP) - Hundreds of India's companies have failed to find women for their boards despite a last-minute rush to meet a mandatory deadline to appoint at least one female director.

More than 1,500 companies, or 33 percent of those on India's two main exchanges, have not complied with a new law aimed at reversing a lack of women in boardrooms, a group that tracks listed firms said Tuesday.

Others, including India's second richest man Mukesh Ambani, have found unusual solutions - appointing their wives rather than opting for outside talent.

Ambani's giant conglomerate, Reliance Industries, has appointed wife Nita, while industrialist Gautam Singhania also named wife Nawaz Singhania as a director of his massive textile manufacturing conglomerate, Raymond Group.

Pranav Haldea, managing director of PRIME Database, said companies were scrambling to appoint one female director ahead of the April 1 deadline set by India's market regulator.

"This sort of last-minute rush pattern is typical when it comes to regulatory compliance," said Haldea, whose firm has compiled figures on the companies complying with the order.

Some 1,819 companies out of more than 5,000 listed on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) and the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) had still not announced female directors as of March 27, the firm said.

"It is the height of ridiculousness. Companies are just being lazy. It is impossible not to find the required number of qualified women from a billion people," said Shriram Subramanian, head of corporate advisory firm InGovern, based in the southern city of Bangalore.

"Firms think if a large number of companies do not follow the norm nobody will be fined and the deadline will be pushed ahead. It is like if (all people) spit on the road nobody can be fined."

Ahead of the deadline, regulator, the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI), warned that firms face regulatory action for failure to comply.

SEBI chief U.K. Sinha also said last week he found it "very shameful" that so many companies didn't already have women on their boards.

SEBI announced the rules 13 months ago in a bid to boost gender diversity at the top and has already extended its original deadline from last October.

During a visit to India earlier this month, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said the lack of female workers in India is a "huge missed opportunity" for the country's economic growth.

Women make up roughly 50 percent of India's population of 1.2 billion, but in terms of female labour participation the country ranks a dismal 120th among the 131 nations surveyed by International Labour Organisation in 2013.