Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta* and Ajay Rastogi, JJ has upheld Kerala High Court’s decision holding that Section 14 of the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002 (SARFAESI Act) mandating the District Magistrate to deliver possession of a secured asset within 30 days, extendable to an aggregate of 60 days upon reasons recorded in writing, is a directory provision.
Object of SARFAESI Act
It was noticed that the SARFAESI Act was enacted to provide a machinery for empowering banks and financial institutions, so that they may have the power to take possession of secured assets and to sell them. This was done after Recovery of Debts due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993, which was first enacted to streamline the recovery of public dues, did not give desirous results.
Does inability to take possession of secured assets within time limit renders the District Magistrate Functus Officio?
Taking note of this objective of the SARFAESI Act in mind, the Court noticed that the time limit to take action by the District Magistrate has been fixed to impress upon the authority to take possession of the secured assets. However, inability to take possession within time limit does not render the District Magistrate Functus Officio.
Interpreting Section 14 of the SARFAESI Act, the Court said that
“… the secured creditor has no control over the District Magistrate who is exercising jurisdiction under Section 14 of the Act for public good to facilitate recovery of public dues. Therefore, Section 14 of the Act is not to be interpreted literally without considering the object and purpose of the Act. If any other interpretation is placed upon the language of Section 14, it would be contrary to the purpose of the Act.”
The Court noticed that the time limit is to instill a confidence in creditors that the District Magistrate will make an attempt to deliver possession as well as to impose a duty on the District Magistrate to make an earnest effort to comply with the mandate of the statute to deliver the possession within 30 days and for reasons to be recorded within 60 days. Hence, the remedy under Section 14 of the Act is not rendered redundant if the District Magistrate is unable to handover the possession. The District Magistrate will still be enjoined upon, the duty to facilitate delivery of possession at the earliest.
Limitations on power of High Courts to pass interim orders
On the issue of borrowers and other aggrieved persons invoking the jurisdiction of the High Court under Articles 226 or 227 of the Constitution of India without availing the alternative statutory remedy, the Court said that though the High Courts are well aware of the limitations in exercising their jurisdiction when affective alternative remedies are available, but a word of caution would still be necessary for the High Courts that
“… interim orders should generally not be passed without hearing the secured creditor as interim orders defeat the very purpose of expeditious recovery of public money.”
[C. Bright v. District Collector, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 909, decided on 05.11.2020]
*Justice Hemant Gupta has penned this judgment