Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and MR Shah, JJ has held that a person who is ineligible under Section 29A of the Insolvency Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) to submit a resolution plan, is also barred from proposing a scheme of compromise and arrangement under Section 230 of the Companies Act, 2013.
“Section 29A has been construed to be a crucial link in ensuring that the objects of the IBC are not defeated by allowing “ineligible persons”, including but not confined to those in the management who have run the company aground, to return in the new avatar of resolution applicants.”
IBC liquidation and Section 230 scheme: Legislative history
Explaining the legislative history behind the scheme of compromise or arrangement proposed under Section 230, the Court noticed that there is no reference in the body of the IBC this scheme, Sub-section (1) of Section 230 was however amended with effect from 15 November 2016 so as to allow for a scheme of compromise or arrangement being proposed on the application of a liquidator who has been appointed under the provisions of the IBC.
“While there is no direct recognition of the provisions of Section 230 of the Act of 2013 in the IBC, a decision was rendered by the NCLAT on 27 February 2019 in Y Shivram Prasad v. S Dhanapal, 2019 SCC OnLine NCLAT 172. NCLAT in the course of its decision observed that during the liquidation process the steps which are required to be taken by the liquidator include a compromise or arrangement in terms of Section 230 of the Act of 2013, so as to ensure the revival and continuance of the corporate debtor by protecting it from its management and from “a death by liquidation”. The decision by NCLAT took note of the fact that while passing the order under Section 230, the Adjudicating Authority would perform a dual role: one as the Adjudicating Authority in the matter of liquidation under the IBC and the other as a Tribunal for passing an order under Section 230 of the Act of 2013. Following the decision of NCLAT, an amendment was made on 25 July 2019 to the Liquidation Process Regulations by the IBBI so as to refer to the process envisaged under Section 230 of the Act of 2013.”
The three modes in which a revival is contemplated under the provisions of the IBC
The first mode of revival is in the form of the CIRP elucidated in the provisions of Chapter II of the IBC.
The second mode is where the corporate debtor or its business is sold as a going concern within the purview of clauses (e) and (f) of Regulation 32.
The third mode is when a revival is contemplated through the modalities provided in Section 230 of the Act of 2013.
Scope of Section 230 of the Companies Act, 2013
Section 230 of the Act of 2013 is wider in its ambit in the sense that it is not confined only to a company in liquidation or to corporate debtor which is being wound up under Chapter III of the IBC. Obviously, therefore, the rigors of the IBC will not apply to proceedings under Section 230 of the Act of 2013 where the scheme of compromise or arrangement proposed is in relation to an entity which is not the subject of a proceeding under the IBC. But, when the process of invoking the provisions of Section 230 of the Act of 2013 traces its origin or, as it may be described, the trigger to the liquidation proceedings which have been initiated under the IBC, it becomes necessary to read both sets of provisions in harmony.
“A harmonious construction between the two statutes would ensure that while on the one hand a scheme of compromise or arrangement under Section 230 is being pursued, this takes place in a manner which is consistent with the underlying principles of the IBC because the scheme is proposed in respect of an entity which is undergoing liquidation under Chapter III of the IBC.”
Effect of linkage of IBC with Section 230 of the Act of 2013
In the case of a company which is undergoing liquidation pursuant to the provisions of Chapter III of the IBC, a scheme of compromise or arrangement proposed under Section 230 is a facet of the liquidation process. The object of the scheme of compromise or arrangement is to revive the company. Liquidation of the company under the IBC is a matter of last resort.
The statutory scheme underlying the IBC and the legislative history of its linkage with Section 230 of the Act of 2013, in the context of a company which is in liquidation, has the following important consequences:
- a liquidation under Chapter III of the IBC follows upon the entire gamut of proceedings contemplated under that statute.
- one of the modes of revival in the course of the liquidation process is envisaged in the enabling provisions of Section 230 of the Act of 2013, to which recourse can be taken by the liquidator appointed under Section 34 of the IBC.
- the statutorily contemplated activities of the liquidator do not cease while inviting a scheme of compromise or arrangement under Section 230.
In taking recourse to the provisions of Section 230 of the Act of 2013, the liquidator appointed under the IBC is, above all, to attempt a revival of the corporate debtor so as to save it from the prospect of a corporate death.
“The consequence of the approval of the scheme of revival or compromise, and its sanction thereafter by the Tribunal under Sub-section (6), is that the scheme attains a binding character upon stakeholders including the liquidator who has been appointed under the IBC.”
Why the back-door entry of ineligible persons is banned?
“As such, the company has to be protected from its management and a corporate death. It would lead to a manifest absurdity if the very persons who are ineligible for submitting a resolution plan, participating in the sale of assets of the company in liquidation or participating in the sale of the corporate debtor as a ‘going concern’, are somehow permitted to propose a compromise or arrangement under Section 230 of the Act of 2013.”
Section 29A was designed to prevent a back-door entry to a class of persons considered to be ineligible to participate in the resolution process. Section 35(1)(f) extends the ineligibility where the liquidator is conducting a sale of the assets of the corporate debtor in liquidation.
In the context of the statutory linkage provided by the provisions of Section 230 of the Act of 2013 with Chapter III of the IBC, where a scheme is proposed of a company which is in liquidation under the IBC, it would be far-fetched to hold that the ineligibilities which attach under Section 35(1)(f) read with Section 29A would not apply when Section 230 is sought to be invoked. Such an interpretation would result in defeating the provisions of the IBC and must be eschewed.
“The stages of submitting a resolution plan, selling assets of a company in liquidation and selling the company as a going concern during liquidation, all indicate that the promoter or those in the management of the company must not be allowed a back-door entry in the company and are hence, ineligible to participate during these stages.”
[Arun Kumar Jagatramka v. Jindal Steel and Power Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 220, decided on 15.03.2021]
*Judgement by: Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud
Appearances before the Court by:
For appellant: Advocates Sandeep Bajaj and Shiv Shankar Banerjee
For Respondent: Senior Advocates Amit Sibal and Gopal Jain