The Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002 (SARFAESI) was enacted with the objective to enable banks and financial institutions to realise long-term assets, to improve recovery of debts and reduce non-performing assets by taking possession and selling such assets, in the manner and as per the procedure as provided therein and read with the Security Interest (Enforcement) Rules, 2002 (Rules).
The SARFAESI read with the Rules, meticulously sets out the step-by-step procedure which is to be adhered to by the banks/financial institutions i.e. the secured creditors, for taking possession and ultimately effecting the transfer of a non-performing asset. Non-adherence to any single procedural step or even non-compliance of a time period stipulated therein by the secured creditor, has lead to a plethora of litigation.
A third-party purchaser, being interested in acquiring the secured asset must primarily ensure that the secured creditor has taken all the necessary steps and checked all the boxes as spelt out under the SARFAESI read with the Rules, prior to acquisition of the secured asset.
Sale on “As is where is basis”
The sale of secured assets under SARFAESI in most cases takes place on “as is where is basis” which means that the purchaser would be acquiring the asset with all its existing rights, obligations and liabilities. Auction notices which are issued by the secured creditors usually state that “the property is free from all encumbrances known to the secured creditor” and thereby shifting the onus onto the purchaser to make its own independent enquiry. However, the Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench, in its recent judgment dated 18-2-2021 in Medineutrina (P) Ltd. v. District Industries Centre held that, when a property is sold on “as is where is basis”, though it would be upon the purchaser to make reasonable enquiries about the encumbrances affecting the property, the mere mention of “as is where is basis” or any such phrase should not absolve the secured creditor of its obligation to make proper enquiries about other dues/encumbrances affecting the property, to obtain information about which the secured creditor has the means and which information should be disclosed in the auction notice so that the purchaser can make a conscious decision and not raise a plea of not having been informed. Insofar as encumbrances on account of statutory/government/municipal/ revenue dues are concerned, the responsibility of obtaining the details thereof is of the secured creditor. In spite of the aforesaid directions laid down in the judgment, the Court further held that an encumbrance affecting the secured asset, prior to the issuance of the auction notice, would be the liability of the purchaser in order to obtain a clear and marketable title to the property having purchased the same on “as is where is basis”.
Even though the aforesaid judgment directs secured creditors to make a disclosure of statutory encumbrances in the auction notice, it is still to be seen if the directions laid down therein will become a reality and will protect a third-party purchaser who is acquiring the secured asset on “as is where is basis”. It is prudent for the purchaser to make its own independent enquiry with respect to outstanding dues and encumbrances affecting the property, so as to factor in such cost as such additional cost will not form part of the consideration payable to the secured creditor for acquisition of the asset. As per Section 31-B of SARFAESI [as amended by the Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Act, 2016], any debt due to a secured creditor by sale of assets over which security interest is created, shall take priority over any debt due to the Central Government, State Government or local authority. Accordingly, any other dues/encumbrances affecting the property, will have to be cleared in addition to the consideration payable to the secured creditor so as to enable the purchaser to obtain a clear and marketable title to the secured asset.
Borrowers right to foreclose and redeem the mortgage
As per Section 60 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, the mortgagor/borrower has a right to redeem the mortgage on payment of the entire mortgage money to the secured creditor. It has been the contention of borrowers that the right of redemption only stands extinguished on the date of registration of the sale certificate in favour of the purchaser. This point on redemption has been analysed by the Supreme Court of India in its judgment dated 20-8-2019 in Shakeena v. Bank of India wherein it was held that the borrower has a right of redemption only before the time the mortgage is foreclosed or the estate is sold. It was further held that issuance of a sale certificate as per Rule 9(7) of the Rules is a complete and absolute sale for the purpose of SARFAESI and the sale certificate need not be registered, as Section 17(2)(xii) of the Registration Act, 1908 provides that a sale certificate issued by a Civil or Revenue Officer in respect of property sold in a public auction does not require registration. Accordingly, the right to redemption stands obliterated from the date of issuance of the sale certificate as registration of the sale certificate is not mandatory.
Borrowers right to prevent transfer of secured assets
In addition to what is stated hereinabove and as per the amended Section 13(8) of the SARFAESI which has come into force with effect from 1-9-2016, which amended section states that, where the amount of dues of the secured creditor together with all costs, charges and expenses incurred by the secured creditor are tendered by the borrower to the secured creditor prior to the date of publication of notice for public auction or inviting quotations or tender from public or private treaty for transfer of the secured asset, the secured asset shall not be transferred by the secured creditor. The Supreme Court of India in its judgment dated 10-2-2014 in Mathew Varghese v. M. Amritha Kumar held that by virtue of the provisions of Section 13(8) of the SARFAESI, any sale or transfer of a secured asset cannot take place without duly informing the borrower of the time and date of such sale or transfer in order to enable the borrower to tender the dues of the secured creditor and any such sale or transfer effected without complying with the said statutory requirement would be a constitutional violation and nullify the ultimate sale.
In light of what is stated hereinabove, acquisition of a secured asset under SARFAESI requires the purchaser to do thorough due diligence to ensure there are no outstanding dues and encumbrances affecting the property and to ensure strict compliance of the procedure along with the time periods as stipulated in SARFAESI read with the Rules. The thorough due diligence will enable the purchaser to obtain a clear and marketable title to the secured asset which is free from all encumbrances and by carrying out such due diligence, the purchaser will ultimately be saved from knocking on the doors of the court to enforce its right to the secured asset.
† Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas
†† Associate, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas.