Experts CornerTarun Jain (Tax Practitioner)

  1. Introduction

Determination of proceedings for recovery of tax takes its own time, passing through the adjudication stage, appellate stages and ultimately judicial review of tax administration’s actions. It is vividly possible that, in the interim the taxpayer may engage in activities which frustrate the tax administration’s recovery proceedings. For illustration, the taxpayer may liquidate the business partly or in whole, dispose significant assets, etc. in order to avoid recovery. In order to address such challenges, the tax administration is entrusted with statutory powers to pre-empt such attempts of the taxpayers to forestall recovery. For illustration, Section 281 of the Income Tax Act, 1961 cloths the tax administration with the power to declare “certain transfers to be void”.[1] In the goods and services tax (GST) laws, the tax administration is entrusted with the power to effect “provisional attachment to protect revenue in certain cases” wherein “any property, including bank account” can be attached provisionally by the tax administration during the pendency of certain proceedings.

 

In a short span of four years since the enforcement of GST laws, this power of provisional attachment has been exercised in plenitude by the tax administration which has resulted into judicial challenges and detailed judgments of the High Court. Recently the Supreme Court was seized with a controversy regarding provisional attachment of the properties of a taxpayer by the Himachal Pradesh GST authorities. By way of a detailed judgment in Radha Krishan Industries v. State of H.P.[2], the Supreme Court has culled out the relevant facets of this power of GST authorities, its contours, limitations, etc. as also enunciated the role of the courts in monitoring the exercise of this power by the GST authorities. The decision is expected to streamline the exercise of such powers under the GST laws while also balancing the rights of the taxpayers. This case comment explores the decision in greater detail so as to demystify the legal position and envision its impact on GST laws.

 

  1. Factual Setting before the Supreme Court

The appellant before the Supreme Court was a manufacturer who was issued a notice under Section 78 of the Himachal Pradesh Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 (H.P. GST). Post a series of hearings, the Joint Commissioner of State Taxes passed orders provisionally attaching the appellant’s receivables from its customers. The provisional attachment was ordered under Section 83 of the H.P. GST read with Rule 159 framed thereunder. This provisional attachment was challenged by the appellant by way of writ petition before the High Court. Instead of adverting to the merits of the challenge, however, the High Court dismissed the writ petition on the ground of maintainability, citing availability of alternate remedies. This refusal by the High Court to examine the correctness of the provisional attachment order was challenged before the Supreme Court.

 

  1. Enunciating the Contours and Limitations on the Power of Provisional Attachment

The relevant provision of the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 (which has been similarly incorporated under the State GST laws, such as the H.P. GST) states as under:

 

  1. Provisional attachment to protect revenue in certain cases.— (1) Where, after the initiation of any proceeding under Chapter XII, Chapter XIV or Chapter XV, the Commissioner is of the opinion that for the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue it is necessary so to do, he may, by order in writing, attach provisionally, any property, including bank account, belonging to the taxable person or any person specified in sub-section (1-A) of Section 122, in such manner as may be prescribed.

(2) Every such provisional attachment shall cease to have effect after the expiry of a period of one year from the date of the order made under sub-section (1).

 

The Supreme Court extensively dissected the statutory scheme under the GST laws whereupon the power of provisional attachment was pedestaled. Noting that in the aforesaid scheme the power was no unbridled and instead was circumscribed by various conditions inherent in the statutory scheme, the Supreme Court laid out the following six parts in which sub-section (1) of Section 83 could be divided, observing thus:

 

  1. 42. Sub-section (1) of Section 83 can be bifurcated into several parts. The first part provides an insight on when in point of time or at which stage the power can be exercised. The second part specifies the authority to whom the power to order a provisional attachment is entrusted. The third part defines the conditions which must be fulfilled to validate the power or ordering a provisional attachment. The fourth part indicates the manner in which an attachment is to be levelled. The final and the fifth part defines the nature of the property which can be attached. Each of these special divisions which have been explained above is for convenience of exposition. While they are not watertight compartments, ultimately and together they aid in validating an understanding of the statute. Each of the above five parts is now interpreted and explained below:

(i) The power to order a provisional attachment is entrusted during the pendency of proceedings under any one of six specified provisions: Sections 62, 63, 64, 67, 73 or Section 74. In other words, it is when a proceeding under any of these provisions is pending that a provisional attachment can be ordered.

(ii) The power to order a provisional attachment has been vested by the legislature in the Commissioner.

(iii) Before exercising the power, the Commissioner must be “of the opinion that for the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue, it is necessary so to do”.

(iv) The order for attachment must be in writing.

(v) The provisional attachment which is contemplated is of any property including a bank account belonging to the taxable person.

(vi) The manner in which a provisional attachment is levied must be specified in the rules made pursuant to the provisions of the statute.

 

Explaining the practical purport of this scheme, the Supreme Court opined that formation of “opinion” was sine qua non for exercise of this power and thus is its precondition. Enthralling the salient features of this conditionality, the Supreme Court observed the following:

 

  1. 49. Now in this backdrop, it becomes necessary to emphasise that before the Commissioner can levy a provisional attachment, there must be a formation of “the opinion” and that it is necessary “so to do” for the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue. The power to levy a provisional attachment is draconian in nature. By the exercise of the power, a property belonging to the taxable person may be attached, including a bank account. The attachment is provisional and the statute has contemplated an attachment during the pendency of the proceedings under the stipulated statutory provisions noticed earlier. An attachment which is contemplated in Section 83 is, in other words, at a stage which is anterior to the finalisation of an assessment or the raising of a demand. Conscious as the legislature was of the draconian nature of the power and the serious consequences which emanate from the attachment of any property including a bank account of the taxable person, it conditioned the exercise of the power by employing specific statutory language which conditions the exercise of the power. The language of the statute indicates first, the necessity of the formation of opinion by the Commissioner; second, the formation of opinion before ordering a provisional attachment; third the existence of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue; fourth, the issuance of an order in writing for the attachment of any property of the taxable person; and fifth, the observance by the Commissioner of the provisions contained in the rules in regard to the manner of attachment. Each of these components of the statute are integral to a valid exercise of power. In other words, when the exercise of the power is challenged, the validity of its exercise will depend on a strict and punctilious observance of the statutory preconditions by the Commissioner. While conditioning the exercise of the power on the formation of an opinion by the Commissioner that “for the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue, it is necessary so to do”, it is evident that the statute has not left the formation of opinion to an unguided subjective discretion of the Commissioner. The formation of the opinion must bear a proximate and live nexus to the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue.
  2. 50. By utilising the expression “it is necessary so to do” the legislature has evinced an intent that an attachment is authorised not merely because it is expedient to do so (or profitable or practicable for the revenue to do so) but because it is necessary to do so in order to protect interest of the government revenue. Necessity postulates that the interest of the revenue can be protected only by a provisional attachment without which the interest of the revenue would stand defeated. Necessity in other words postulates a more stringent requirement than a mere expediency. A provisional attachment under Section 83 is contemplated during the pendency of certain proceedings, meaning thereby that a final demand or liability is yet to be crystallised. An anticipatory attachment of this nature must strictly conform to the requirements, both substantive and procedural, embodied in the statute and the rules. The exercise of unguided discretion cannot be permissible because it will leave citizens and their legitimate business activities to the peril of arbitrary power. Each of these ingredients must be strictly applied before a provisional attachment on the property of an assesses can be levied. The Commissioner must be alive to the fact that such provisions are not intended to authorise Commissioners to make pre-emptive strikes on the property of the assessee, merely because property is available for being attached. There must be a valid formation of the opinion that a provisional attachment is necessary for the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue.
  3. 51. These expressions in regard to both the purpose and necessity of provisional attachment implicate the doctrine of proportionality. Proportionality mandates the existence of a proximate or live link between the need for the attachment and the purpose which it is intended to secure. It also postulates the maintenance of a proportion between the nature and extent of the attachment and the purpose which is sought to be served by ordering it. Moreover, the words embodied in sub-section (1) of Section 83, as interpreted above, would leave no manner of doubt that while ordering a provisional attachment the Commissioner must in the formation of the opinion act on the basis of tangible material on the basis of which the formation of opinion is based in regard to the existence of the statutory requirement.

 

The aforesaid aspect reveals that the Supreme Court has effectively rewritten the scheme regarding the power of the tax administration of provisional attachment whereby (a) heavy onus has been placed upon the tax administration to demonstrate the necessity for the exercise of such power objectively and judicially; and (b) also ensure its limited application, in view of the doctrine of proportionality.

 

In order to incorporate further safeguards towards protecting the taxpayers against indiscriminate exercise of this power, the Supreme Court culled out the principles prevailing under the income tax laws, namely, the “tangible material” test as the basis for inquiry and exercise of powers. On this point, the Supreme Court observed as under:

  1. 52. We adopt the test of the existence of “tangible material”. In this context, reference may be made to the decision of this Court in CIT Kelvinator of India Ltd.[3] Mr Justice S.H. Kapadia (as the learned Chief Justice then was) while considering the expression “reason to believe” in Section 147 of the Income Tax Act, 1961 that income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment inter alia by the omission or failure of the assessee to disclose fully and truly all material facts necessary for the assessment of that year, held that the power to reopen an assessment must be conditioned on the existence of “tangible material” and that “reasons must have a live link with the formation of the belief”. This principle was followed subsequently in a two-Judge Bench decision in ITO v. Techspan India (P) Ltd.[4] While adverting to these decisions we have noticed that Section 83 of the H.P. GST Act uses the expression “opinion” as distinguished from “reasons to believe”. However for the reasons that we have indicated earlier we are clearly of the view that the formation of the opinion must be based on tangible material which indicates a live link to the necessity to order a provisional attachment to protect the interest of the government revenue.

 

To conclude on the legal position, the Supreme Court decision summarises as under:

  1. 79. …

(iv) The power to order a provisional attachment of the property of the taxable person including a bank account is draconian in nature and the conditions which are prescribed by the statute for a valid exercise of the power must be strictly fulfilled.

(v) The exercise of the power for ordering a provisional attachment must be preceded by the formation of an opinion by the Commissioner that it is necessary so to do for the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue. Before ordering a provisional attachment the Commissioner must form an opinion on the basis of tangible material that the assessee is likely to defeat the demand, if any, and that therefore, it is necessary so to do for the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue.

(vi) The expression “necessary so to do for protecting the government revenue” implicates that the interests of the government revenue cannot be protected without ordering a provisional attachment.

(vii) The formation of an opinion by the Commissioner under Section 83(1) must be based on tangible material bearing on the necessity of ordering a provisional attachment for the purpose of protecting the interest of the government revenue.

***

(ix) Under the provisions of Rule 159(5), the person whose property is attached is entitled to dual procedural safeguards:

(a) An entitlement to submit objections on the ground that the property was or is not liable to attachment; and

(b) An opportunity of being heard.

(x) The Commissioner is duty-bound to deal with the objections to the attachment by passing a reasoned order which must be communicated to the taxable person whose property is attached.

 

On the facts of the decision, the Supreme Court rejected the tax administration’s reasoning and declared the provisional attachment to be unlawful.

 

  1. Reflections on Role of High Courts in Provisional Attachment Cases

According to the Supreme Court, the Himachal Pradesh High Court[5] erred in refusing to examine on merits the correctness of provisional attachment by dismissing the writ petition as non-maintainable. In the process of addressing the correctness of the High Court decision, the Supreme Court opined that the power of provisional attachment made significant inroads into the property rights of the taxpayers and thus close supervision of the exercise of such powers was necessary. Being of the opinion that under the statutory scheme of GST there was no means to correct errors in the exercise of such powers by the statutory authorities, the Supreme Court declared that it was incumbent upon the High Courts to exercise their extraordinary writ jurisdiction to examine the propriety of the tax administration’s exercise of power of provisional attachment. For such reason, the Supreme Court categorically concluded as maintainable a writ petition challenging an order of provisional attachment. In doing so, the Supreme Court also affirmed the views of various High Courts which had exercise addressed this proposition.[6] Some of the key propositions emanating from the High Court decisions, which were approved by the Supreme Court in Radha Krishan Industries v. State of H.P.[7] are summarised below:

  • Decision of the Delhi High Court, in Proex Fashion[8] holding that there are five conditions for invocation of Section 83 of the CGST, which stand approved in para 41 of the Supreme Court decision.
  • Decision of the Gujarat High Court, in Valerius Industries[9] which laid down principles for construction of Section 83 of the SGST/CGST Act. The High Court held that provisional attachment on the basis of a subjective satisfaction, absent any cogent or credible material, constitutes malice in law; vague, indefinite, distant, remote or far-fetching material would not warrant provisional The High Court further went on to lay down the conditions which would permit provisional attachment: (a) where there exists “reasonable apprehension” that the assessee may default the collection of the demand; (b) where there is sufficient material on record to justify the satisfaction that the assessee is about to dispose of wholly or any part of his/her property with a view to thwarting the ultimate collection of demand and in order to achieve the said objective, the attachment should be of the properties and to that extent, it is required to achieve this objective; and (c) provisional attachment power is to be used only as a last resort measure. The power under Section 83 of the Act should neither be used as a tool to harass the assessee nor should it be used in a manner which may have an irreversible detrimental effect on the business of the assessee.
  • In Jay Ambey Filament[10] the Gujarat High Court further expounded the above reasoning, holding that on his opinion being challenged, the competent officer must be able to show the material on the basis of which the belief is formed.
  • Decision in UFV India Global Education[11] of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which held that pendency of proceedings under the provisions mentioned in Section 83 (viz. Sections 62 or 63 or 64 or 67 or 73 or 74) is the sine qua nonfor an order of provisional attachment to be directed under Section 83.
  • Decision of the Bombay High Court in Kaish Impex[12] which considered a similar question regarding the application of Section 83. In this case the tax authorities traced money trail in tax fraud by an export firm and provisionally attached the bank accounts of the petitioner. The issue before the High Court was whether the petitioner’s assets could be attached considering the fact pattern that the proceedings were against another taxable entity. The High Court noted that the proceedings referred to under Section 83 of the Act must be pending against the taxable entity whose property is being attached. It inter alia observed:

 

  1. 18. … Section 83 does not provide for an automatic extension to any other taxable person from an inquiry specifically launched against a taxable person under these provisions. … The format of the order i.e. Form GST DRC-22 also specifies the particulars of a registered taxable person and which proceedings have been launched against the aforesaid taxable person indicating a nexus between the proceedings to be initiated against a taxable person and provisional attachment of bank account of such taxable person.

 

In short, contextualising the observations of the High Courts, the Supreme Court streamlined the legal position regarding the power of provisional attachment available to GST officers seeking to balance the tax recovery objective underlying the power while preserving the legitimate rights of the taxpayers.

 

  1. Conclusion

Any decision of the Supreme Court, given its constitutional authority under Article 141 as being binding on all courts and authorities in India, settled the controversy and lays down the law of the land. However, this decision is relevant on multiple counts not just in the context of the immediate facts but much beyond. Some of the salient aspects are enlisted below:

  • First, as discussed above, the Supreme Court has streamlined the legal position regarding the power of provisional attachment available to GST officers. This is crucial because GST is a relatively new tax and, more critically, cited as a reform. Thus, it is crucial that its provisions are interpreted uniformly across the country and that too in a humane manner such that their indiscriminate application does not derail the underlying objective of the new tax regime.
  • Second, the decision of the Supreme Court is not just based upon interpretation of the statutory provisions. Instead, it seeks to achieve a delicate balance protecting government revenue and allowing genuine businesses to operate, evidently in furtherance of underlying objective of making the GST law workable.
  • Third, the jurisprudential intercourse sought to be embedded in the scheme of provisional attachment related statutory provisions clearly dispels the long-standing tradition of the Supreme Court wherein the principle of natural justice and fair play are sought to be read in the fiscal laws, thereby ensuring that they remain within the constitutional precincts and do not trample upon the fundamental rights of the taxpayers, indulging the right for reasonable and balanced application of fiscal laws. To this effect, inter alia, the Supreme Court rightly dismissed the contention to grant higher sanctity to discretion of the GST Commissioner, thereby ensuring that the rights of the taxpayers are protected by a fair interpretation of the taxing statute.
  • Fourth, on a larger level, by confirming High Court’s supervision of tax officers’ actions under the extraordinary writ jurisdiction even though the statutory provisions do not provide any legal remedy to the aggrieved taxpayer, the Supreme Court has not just ensured that the taxpayer is not left remediless and instead introduced a mechanism to ensure tax officers’ accountability. No executive power can be exercised without effective supervision, much less a wide and potent power to attach assets which cannot only put fetters upon business operations of any entity but can also put strenuous effect on the very survival of business. In such circumstance, it is only appropriate that the exercise of such power is supervised by a constitutional court such that it can ensure balance between the law’s objective and the rights of the affected party.
  • Fifth, by reading into the law twin tests, the doctrine of proportionality and “tangible material”, the Supreme Court has adverted to the conditions necessary to make the law fair and reasonable which is a constitutional Absence of such tenets do not ipso facto make the law unconstitutional but by reading them into the law, the Supreme Court has ensured that arbitrariness and capricious conduct is not perpetrated in the garb of exercising statutory functions. Thereby the Supreme Court has protected genuine persons from unwarranted harassment and obviated the possibility of unguided discretion leading to peril of arbitrary power.

 

In short, this decision of the Supreme Court is a welcome addition to tax jurisprudence and incremental vindication of taxpayers’ rights.

 


† Tarun Jain, Advocate, Supreme Court of India; LLM (Taxation), London School of Economics.

The author would like to thank Vanaj Vidyan, Fourth Year Student at Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University for his able assistance.

[1] The provision states that “[w]here, during the pendency of any proceeding under this Act or after the completion thereof, but before the service of notice under R. 2 of the Second Schedule, any assessee creates a charge on, or parts with the possession (by way of sale, mortgage, gift, exchange or any other mode of transfer whatsoever) of, any of his assets in favour of any other person, such charge or transfer shall be void as against any claim in respect of any tax or any other sum payable by the assessee as a result of the completion of the said proceeding or otherwise”.

[2] 2021 SCC OnLine SC 334.

[3] (2010) 2 SCC 723.

[4] (2018) 6 SCC 685.

[5] Radha Krishan Industries v. State of H.P., 2021 SCC OnLine HP 4566 : (2021) 48 GSTL 3.

[6] Bindal Smelting (P) Ltd. v.  Directorate General of GST Intelligence, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 6015 : (2020) 34 GSTL 592; Society for Integrated Development in Urban and Rural Areas v. CIT2001 SCC OnLine AP 1457 : (2001) 252 ITR 642; Vinodkumar Murlidhar Chechani v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 3010.

[7] 2021 SCC OnLine SC 334.

[8] Proex Fashion (P) Ltd.  v. Govt. of India,  2021 SCC OnLine Del 2082.

[9]Valerius Industries v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine Guj 6866 : (2019) 30 GSTL 15.

[10] Jay Ambey Filament (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 3009 : (2021) 44 GSTL 41.

[11]UFV India Global Education v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine P&H 2796 : (2020) 43 GSTL 472.

[12]Kaish Impex (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 125 : (2020) 6 AIR Bom R 122.

Akaant MittalExperts Corner

Recapitulation

The present column post will conclude the 3-part series on the law of limitation and its interplay with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IB Code).

 

In the first part of the column, we had discussed the initial issues in the interplay of IB Code with the law on limitation and how they were resolved by the insertion of Section 238-A to the IB Code and the Supreme Court rulings in B.K. Educational Services[1] and Vashdeo R. Bhojwani v. Abhyudaya Cooperative Bank Ltd.[2] We also discussed the recent ruling of the Supreme Court in Sesh Nath Singh v. Baidyabati Sheoraphuli Cooperative Bank Ltd.[3] which provided some respite as far as Section 14 of the Limitation Act is concerned and how a creditor can use that provision to seek extension of limitation period.

 

In the second part of the column, we discussed the applicability of Section 18 of the Limitation Act to the applications seeking initiation of resolution process under the IB Code. The missed opportunities of Babulal Vardharji[4] now stand settled conclusively by the rulings in Laxmi Pat[5]. Similarly, the limitation issues concerning the acknowledgment of debt for the purposes of Section 18 of the Limitation Act by virtue of entries in balance sheets of a company was settled by the Supreme Court in Asset Reconstruction Co.[6] ruling.

 

In this third part, we will discuss the issue of the effect of Section 19 of the Limitation Act, 1963 which stipulates the “effect of payment on account of debt or of interest on legacy” on an application seeking initiation of resolution process under the IB Code.

 

Brief on Section 19 of the Limitation Act, 1963

 

  1. Effect of payment on account of debt or of interest on legacy.—Where payment on account of a debt or of interest on a legacy is made before the expiration of the prescribed period by the person liable to pay the debt or legacy or by his agent duly authorised in this behalf, a fresh period of limitation shall be computed from the time when the payment was made:

Provided that, save in the case of payment of interest made before the 1st day of January, 1928, an acknowledgment of the payment appears in the handwriting of, or in a writing signed by, the person making the payment.

 

To attract the application of Section 19, two conditions are essential (i) the payment must be made within the prescribed period of limitation; and (ii) it must be acknowledged by some form of writing, either in the handwriting of the payee himself or signed by him.

 

Applicability of Section 19 of the Limitation Act, 1963 to IB Code

The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) has been confronted on several occasions where partial payment of the debt or payment of interest has been made by the debtor on account of the debt.

 

For instance in Neha Himatsingka v. Himatsingka Resorts (P) Ltd.[7] the argument that the debt in question was time barred was rejected. The NCLAT noted that as per the record the corporate debtor had paid interest even after the year 2016-2017 and also issued cheques in the year 2018; therefore, the argument that the claim is time barred was rejected.

 

Similarly in T. Johnson[8], the creditor relied upon (1) the revival letter dated 20-2-2016; (2) balance confirmation letter dated 22-2-2016 by the corporate debtor; and (3) the factum of last payment having been made on 14-11-2017 to establish that its claim is not time barred.

 

The NCLAT noting that apart from the above, there is an admission on the part of the corporate debtor on the basis of the written submissions of the appellant before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and the fact that the appellant debtor is merely disputing the correctness of the quantum of balance claimed by the financial creditor rejected the argument that the claim is time barred.[9]

 

As we have seen in the previous columns, in the rulings of Laxmi Pat[10], Sesh Nath[11] and Asset Reconstruction Co.[12] the Supreme Court has settled that the phrase “the provisions of Limitation Act have been made applicable to the proceedings under the Code, as far as may be applicable” in Section 238-A of the IB Code means that all the relevant provisions of the Limitation Act can be invoked while filing an application under the IB Code. The same in those cases meant that Sections 5, 14 and 18 of the Limitation Act were invoked to extend limitation period.

 

Now the recent ruling of the NCLAT ruling in Rajendra Narottamdas Sheth v. Chandra Prakash Jain,[13] provides us with a more useful reference point to understand the interplay between Section 19 of the Limitation Act, 1963 with the IB Code.

 

In Rajendra Narottamdas[14], the account of the debtor was declared as a non-performing asset (NPA) on 30-9-2014 and the financial creditor filed an application seeking initiation of corporate insolvency resolution process (CIRP) against the debtor on 25-4-2019.[15] The debtor claimed that the application is time barred as it was beyond the three-year limitation period that commenced on the date of the NPA.[16] The financial creditor argued that the limitation period got extended on account of Section 18 of the Limitation Act by relying on the documents showing acknowledgments of debt by the corporate debtor in writing. The creditor also placed reliance on the statements of accounts showing various instalments paid on account of debt and interest, even after the declaration of NPA to invoke the application of Section 19 of the Limitation Act.[17]

 

The NCLAT referred to the following undisputed facts where: (a) the corporate debtor had issued balance confirmation letter dated 7-4-2016 and acknowledged the debt; (b) the account statements showed regular credit entries after 7-4-2016 till May 2018; and (c) the corporate debtor issued a letter dated 17-11-2018 giving details of amounts repaid till 30-9-2018 and acknowledging amount outstanding in respective accounts as on that date.

 

On the basis of these facts, the NCLAT held that the benefit of Sections 18 and 19 were attracted and the application by the creditor was not time barred.[18]

 

Conclusion

 

If the reasoning in Sesh Nath[19], Laxmi Pat[20] and Asset Reconstruction Co.[21] is to be accepted that the “provisions of Limitation Act have been made applicable to the proceedings under the Code, as far as may be applicable”[22], then clearly Section 19 of the Limitation Act can be used to extend limitation period. To that effect, the ruling of the NCLAT in Rajendra Narottamdas[23] shows the way ahead for the application of Section 19 of the Limitation Act to the IB Code.


± Akaant Kumar Mittal is an advocate at the Constitutional Courts, and National Company Law Tribunal, Delhi and Chandigarh. He is also a visiting lecturer at the NUJS, Kolkata and the author of the commentary Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code – Law and Practice.

The author gratefully acknowledges the research and assistance of Sh. Abhishek Jain, 3rd Year, B.A.LLB. (Hons.), Student at National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, in writing this article.

 

[1] B.K. Educational Services (P) Ltd. v. Parag Gupta and Associates, (2019) 11 SCC 633 : (2018) 5 SCC (Civ) 528.

[2] (2019) 9 SCC 158 : (2019) 4 SCC (Civ) 308.

[3] 2021 SCC OnLine SC 244.

[4]Babulal Vardharji Gurjar v. Veer Gurjar Aluminium Industries (P) Ltd., (2020) 15 SCC 1 : 2020 SCC OnLine SC 647.

[5] Laxmi Pat Surana v. Union Bank of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 267.

[6] Asset Reconstruction Co. (India) Ltd. v. Bishal Jaiswal, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 321.

[7] 2018 SCC OnLine NCLAT 784.

[8] T. Johnson v. Phoenix ARC (P) Ltd., 2019 SCC OnLine NCLAT 244.

[9] Id., para 6.

[10] 2021 SCC OnLine SC 267.

[11] 2021 SCC OnLine SC 244.

[12] 2021 SCC OnLine SC 321.

[13] 2020 SCC OnLine NCLAT 827.

[14] Id.

[15] Id, para 3.

[16] Id, para 4.

[17] Id, para 8.

[18] Id, paras 24-27.

[19] 2021 SCC OnLine SC 244.

[20] 2021 SCC OnLine SC 267.

[21] 2021 SCC OnLine SC 321.

[22] Laxmi Pat Surana, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 267, para 41.

[23] 2020 SCC OnLine NCLAT 827.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah, JJ has refused to pass any direction in the petition seeking effective and remedial measures to redress and overcome the financial stress and hardship faced by the borrowers of the country during the second wave of Covid 19 and lockdown.

The Circular of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) dated 05.05.2021, by which the Reserve Bank of India has issued Resolution of Covid 19 related stress of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), was put before the Court in support of the petition. It was argued that the Circular does not sufficiently address the hardship of the borrowers.

The Court, however, said,

“Be that as it may, the financial relief and other measures are in the domain of the Government and essentially related to policy matter.”

It is pertinent to note that the 3-judge consisting of both the judges of the present bench, along with R. Subhash Reddy, J had, in a breather to customers in the case relating to waiver of interest on loan during the moratorium period, directed that all steps to implement the decision dated 23.10.2020 of the Government of India, Ministry of Finance be taken so that benefit to the eight categories contemplated in the affidavit can be extended.

Read the full report on the said order here:

COVID-19| Seeking waiver of interest on interest for loan during the moratorium period? SC asks Govt to implement decision to forego compound interest on these 8 categories

The Court, hence, left it to the Union of India and the Reserve Bank of India to consider and take appropriate decision in the matter.

[Vishal Tiwari v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 423, order dated 11.06.2021]


For Petitioner: Petitioner-in-person

For Respondent: Mr. Tushar Mehta, SG

Ms. Aishwarya Bhati, ASG

Mr. Rajat Nair, Adv.

Mr. Kanu Agrawal, Adv.

Mr. B.V. Balramdas, AOR

Case BriefsCOVID 19Supreme Court

Supreme Court: In an important verdict concerning the Small Scale Industries, particularly the MSMEs, facing the financial strain due to the Corona Virus Pandemic, the 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah*, JJ has held that there shall not be any charge of interest on interest/compound interest/penal interest from any of the borrowers who availed RBI’s loan moratorium scheme for the period between March 1, 2020 till August 31, 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Court held that whatever the amount is recovered by way of interest on interest/compound interest/penal interest for the period during the moratorium, the same shall be refunded and be adjusted/given credit in the next instalment of the loan account.

The Court, however, refused to extend the moratorium period and also refused to grant the relief of total waiver of interest. 

Background

The Court was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Covid-19 Regulatory Package notified by the RBI vide notification dated 27.03.2020 seeking total waiver of interest being charged on the loan amount during the moratorium period and also further extension of the moratorium period. It was also prayed before the Court that the relief packages which are offered by the UOI/RBI/Bankers/Lenders were not sufficient and some better and/or more reliefs should be offered.

However, on 23.10.2020 , the Central Government came out with a policy decision by which it is decided not to charge the interest on interest on the loans up to Rs. 2 crores.  However, such relief was restricted to these 8 categories.

It was Central Government’s case that if the Government were to consider waiver of interest on all the loans and advances to all classes and categories of borrowers corresponding to the six-month period for which the moratorium was made available under the relevant RBI circulars, the estimated amount is more than Rs. 6 lakh crores. “If the banks were to bear this burden, it would necessarily wipe out a substantial and a major part of their net worth, rendering most of the banks unviable and raising a very serious question mark over their very survival.” This was one of the main reasons why waiver of interest   was   not   even   contemplated and only payment of instalments was deferred.

After careful consideration and weighing all possible options, the Central Government decided to continue the tradition of handholding the small borrowers and, therefore, granted the relief of waiver of compound interest during the moratorium period, limited to the most vulnerable categories of borrowers.

Ruling 

Total Waiver of interest during moratorium period

The bankers/lenders have to pay the interest to the depositors and their liability to pay the interest on the deposits continue even during the moratorium period. They also have to bear the administrative expenses. Continue payment of interest to depositors is not only one of the most essential banking activities but it shall be a huge responsibility owed by the banks to crores and crores of small depositors, pensioners etc. surviving on the interest from their deposits. There may be several welfare funds schemes, category specific and sector specific which might be surviving and are implemented on the strength of the interest generated from their deposits. All such welfare funds would depend on the income generated from their deposits for the survival of their members.

“Therefore, to grant such a relief of total waiver of interest during the moratorium period would have a far-reaching financial implication in the economy of the country as well as the lenders/banks.”

Hence, when a conscious decision has been taken not to waive the interest during the moratorium period and a policy decision has been taken to give relief to the borrowers by deferring the payment of installments and so many other reliefs are offered by the RBI and thereafter by the bankers independently considering the Report submitted by Kamath Committee consisting of experts, the interference of the court is not called for.

Insufficient Relief packages

No   mandamus   can   be   issued   to   grant   some   more reliefs/packages. The court cannot interfere with the economic policy decisions on the ground that either they are not sufficient or efficacious and/or some more reliefs should have been granted. The Government might have their own priorities and the Government has to spend in various fields and in the present case like health, medicine, providing food etc.

Economic decisions are required to be taken keeping the larger economic scenario in mind and as such the Central Government has already given various reliefs and by providing various reliefs, they have already expanded huge financial burden. Further, the pandemic has caused stress to large and small businesses and the individuals who have lost jobs and livelihoods. By and large, everybody has suffered due to lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic.

“No State or country can have unlimited resources to spend on any of its projects. That is why it only announces the financial reliefs/packages to the extent it is feasible.”

Extension of moratorium period

Extension of moratorium period is a policy decision.  Even otherwise, almost five months were available to eligible borrowers when circular dated 6.8.2020 was notified providing for a separate resolution mechanism for Covid19 related stressed assets.  Therefore, sufficient time was given to invoke the resolution mechanism.

Restriction of not charging interest on interest with respect to the loans up to Rs. 2 crores only for a few categories

In absence of any justification shown by the Government to restrict the relief of not charging interest on interest with respect to the loans up to Rs. 2 crores only and that too restricted to the aforesaid categories, the Court found such decision to be irrational.

It was also noted that the scheme dated 23.10.2020 granting relief/benefit of waiver of compound interest/interest on interest contains eligibility criteria and it provides that any borrower whose aggregate of all facilities with lending institution is more than Rs. 2 crores (sanctioned limit or outstanding amount) will not be eligible for ex-gratia payment under the said scheme.  Therefore, if the total exposure of the loan at the grant of the sanction is more than Rs. 2 crores, the borrower will be ineligible irrespective of the actual outstanding.

Giving an example, the Court explained

“if the borrower has been sanctioned a loan of Rs. 5 crores and has availed of the same, even though he might have repaid substantially bringing down the principal amount of less than Rs. 2 crores as on 29.02.2020, but because of the sanction of the loan amount of more than Rs. 2 crores, he will be ineligible. It also further provides that the outstanding amount should not be exceeded to Rs. 2 crores and for this purpose aggregate of all facilities with the lending institution will be reckoned.   Therefore, if a borrower, for example, MSME Category has availed and has outstanding of business loan of Rs. 1.99 crores and also has dues of its credit card of Rs. 1.10 lakhs, thereby making the aggregate to Rs. 2.10 crores, it stands ineligible. Therefore, the aforesaid conditions would be arbitrary and discriminatory.”

Further, the compound interest/interest on interest shall be chargeable on deliberate/willful default by the borrower to pay the installments due and payable. Therefore, it is in the nature of a penal interest.

By notification dated 27.03.2020, the Government has provided the deferment of the installments due and payable during the moratorium period.

“Once the payment of installment is deferred as per circular dated 27.03.2020, non-payment of the installment during the moratorium period cannot be said to be willful and therefore there is no justification to charge the interest on interest/compound interest/penal interest for the period during the moratorium.”

Therefore, there shall not be any charge of interest on interest/compound interest/penal interest for the period during the moratorium from any of the borrowers and whatever the amount is recovered by way of interest on interest/compound interest/penal interest for the period during the moratorium, the same shall be refunded and to be adjusted/given credit in the next instalment of the loan account.

[Small Scale Industries Manufacturers Association v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 246, decided on 23.03.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah

Appearances before the Court by:

For Petitioners: Senior Advocate Ravindra Shrivastava, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Kapil Sibbal

For Union of India: Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta

For RBI: Senior Advocate V. Giri

For Indian Bank Association: Senior Advocate Harish Salve

For SBI: Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi

ALSO READ

COVID-19| Seeking waiver of interest on interest for loan during the moratorium period? SC asks Govt to implement decision to forego compound interest on these 8 categories

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a breather to customers in the case relating to waiver of interest on loan during the moratorium period, the 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan*, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ has directed that all steps to implement the decision dated 23.10.2020 of the Government of India, Ministry of Finance be taken so that benefit to the eight categories contemplated in the affidavit can be extended.

The affidavit dated 23.10.2020, states that

“ (…) the decision taken by the Central Government for granting various reliefs for the COVID-19 pandemic for benefit of waiver of interest upto Rs.2 Crores in eight categories has been approved by the Union Cabinet in its meeting dated 21.10.2020 and Ministry of Finance has issued directions dated 23.10.2020 on the subject, which has been brought on record alongwith the affidavit.”

The eight categories are:

(i) MSME loans

(ii) Education loans

(iii) Housing loans

(iv) Consumer durable loans

(v) Credit card dues

(vi) Automobile loans

(vii) Personal loans to professionals

(viii) Consumption loans up

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted before the Court that the Central Government is fully conscious of the difficulties faced by the various sectors and the stakeholders of various sectors and the Finance Ministry, after the outbreak of COVID-19, has taken several measures of reliefs dealing with the potential problems faced by several sectors and in several spheres of all financial worlds.

It was further highlighted that in pursuance of circular dated 23.10.2020,

“… the State Bank of India has informed that as on 13.11.2020, as per provisional, unaudited information received so far from various lending institutions, such lending institutions have released ex-gratia amount of an aggregate exceeding Rs.4,300 Crores in over 13.12 Crore accounts of borrowers covered under the Scheme.”

The Court will continue to hear the matter on 02.12.2020.

[Gajendra Sharma v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 963, decided on 27.11.2020]


*Justice Ashok Bhushan has penned this judgment

For petitioner: Senior Advocate Rajiv Dutta

For RBI: Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Senior Advocate V. Giri and Advocate Ramesh Babu M.R.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Customs, Excise and Services Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT): P. Venkata Subba Rao (Technical Member) allowed an appeal which was filed against the judgment of Commissioner (Appeals).

The appellant imported Benzothiazole through Visakhapatnam Port declaring an assessable value of US$ 3.5 per Kg being the transaction value. The Assistant Commissioner enhanced it to 4.3523 per Kg. The appellant paid the enhanced duty under protest and appealed to Commissioner (Appeals) who set aside the enhancement. Thereafter the appellant had filed an application for refund of the excess duty paid by them. The Assistant Commissioner rejected the refund claim and on appeal, the rejection of refund was upheld by Commissioner (Appeals).

The Assistant Commissioner had sanctioned the refund but had not paid interest. On appeal Commissioner (Appeals), by the impugned order, held that the liability to pay interest arises only if the refund was not made within three months from the date of receipt of the Tribunal’s Order. Since the refund had been paid within three months from the date of receipt of the Tribunal’s order no interest was payable.

The counsel for the appellant, M. Rajendran submitted that it was a well-settled principle of law that interest had to be paid if the refund was not sanctioned within three months from the date of refund application.

The Tribunal explained that Section 27A of the Customs Act, 1962 provided for the payment on interest on delayed refunds. The Tribunal further stated that if there was any delay in sanctioning the amount of refund if any available to the appellant as per the Tribunal’s Order he can make a claim of the same from the Department. The respondent had sanctioned the refund of Duty and Interest vide impugned order which was well within the time period of three months from the date of order of Appellate Tribunal. Hence the interest on delayed refund under the provisions of Section 27A of Customs Act, 1962 does not arise in the present case. The Tribunal allowed the appeal finding that the appellant was entitled to interest on the delayed refunds from three months from the date of receipt of refund application till the date of which the refund has actually been paid and orders the Department to pay the interest.[Andhra Organics Ltd. v. Commr. Of Central Tax, 2020 SCC OnLine CESTAT 328, decided on 10-11-2020]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has up this story together

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: V.L. Achliya, J., while addressing the issue with regard to the interest on compensation awarded in a motor accident case, observed that,

“…discretion vests with the tribunal to award the interest at ‘such rate’ and from ‘such date’ over the compensation awarded.”

Appellants being aggrieved by the decision of the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal preferred this appeal with a limited challenge of award of interest.

Claimants presented a claim petition under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act seeking compensation of Rs 2 lakhs on account of the accidental death of the deceased who dies in a motor accident.

At the time of the accidental death, the deceased was earning Rs 6,000 per month.

Claimants assessed the compensation to be payable as Rs 14,51,000 but restricted the claim petition to Rs 2 lakhs.

Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Parbhani allowed the claim petition and awarded compensation of Rs 3,64,500 [inclusive of NFL] with interest @ 6% per annum from the date of petition till realization.

Being dissatisfied with the quantum of compensation awarded by the Tribunal, the claimants have preferred Appeal.

In the first appeal, Appellate Court had remanded the case to the Tribunal for deciding the same afresh. While remanding the case, Appellate Court observed that the amount already withdrawn by the claimants under the earlier award would be retained by them and the same shall be subject to further order to be passed by the tribunal.

Further, the Tribunal awarded the compensation of Rs 10,22,208 making the respondent liable to pay the same. Tribunal directed that after deducting the compensation amount of Rs 3,64, 500 which was awarded earlier the claimants shall entitle to recover the balance amount with an interest of 6% per annum from the date of passing Award till its realization.

Aggrieved with the interest from the date of passing of the Award the appellants preferred this appeal.

Decision

Bench referred to Section 171 of the Motor Vehicles Act which provides for the award of interest over the compensation awarded which spells out that discretion vests with the tribunal to award the interest at ‘such rate’ and from ‘such date’ over the compensation awarded.

There is no statutory obligation cast upon the Tribunal to award the interest from the date of making application for compensation. The only restriction that has been cast upon Tribunal under Section 171 of Motor Vehicles Act is to ensure that interest to be awarded be a simple interest and same shall be payable not earlier than the date of making claim.

Thus, except the embargo cast upon that interest can not be awarded from the date earlier to date of making claim, no other restrictions have been imposed upon the discretion of the Court/ Tribunal to award interest.

To understand the meaning of Section 171 of the Motor Vehicles Act, Court referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in Abati Bezbaruah v. Geological Survey of India, (2003) 3 SCC 148.

Further, the bench stated that no hard and fast rule can be laid down as to the rate at which interest to be awarded and date from which such interest to be payable.

While awarding interest, the Tribunal has to take into consideration the facts and circumstances of individual case.

Section 171 of the Motor Vehicles Act does not provide the rate at which interest has to be payable nor the date from which interest to be awarded.

Adding to the above, Court stated that the only restriction that has been put under Section 171 of the Motor Vehicles Act over the exercise of powers of the Tribunal is not to award interest from the date earlier to fling of claim petition and interest to be awarded to be simple interest.

Hence tribunal’s order is clear and unambiguous and the present appeal was dismissed in light of the same. [Sangita v. Allanur, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 931, decided on 24-07-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL): A Division Bench of Manjula Chellur, J. (Member) and S.D. Dubey, (Technical Member) passed an order for implementation of the Tribunal’s order for the payment of the sum of money due with interest.

An application for the implementation of the order was made by the appellant when after a reasonable time the respondent didn’t pay any heed towards the order against them.

Aman Anand, Aman Dixit, counsels for the appellant submitted that the order was received for the payment after increasing the recovery of interim transfer of lignite to 85 percent in place of 70 percent. It was submitted by the appellant that no appeal was pending against the said order. Hence, this application.

R.K. Mehta, Himanshi Andley, P.N. Bhandari, counsels for the respondents, submitted that the matter related to the increase in the tariff was pending in the Commission and that the appellant had rushed to the tribunal prematurely in order to prejudice the pending decision of the Commission.

The Tribunal after submission by the parties held that although the matter is pending in the Commission the payment due is for the previous year and thus the same is to be made by the respondent as per the order of the Tribunal. It was further reiterated that, the said order was passed by this Tribunal at the premise of financial hardship to the generator which was being allowed considerably at less transfer price than they actually claimed. The Court concluded that, the maintenance of judicial discipline is a part of our judicial process. Thus, the order was made for the implementation of the order of the Tribunal in its true spirit.[Barmer Lignite Mining Co. Ltd. v. Rajasthan Electricity Regulatory Commission, 2019 SCC OnLine APTEL 27, decided on 17-05-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Securities and Exchange Board of India: The Board comprising G. Mahalingam as  Whole Time Member, allowed Oil India’s application seeking exemption/relaxation from strict enforcement of the requirement contained under Regulation 24(i)(e) of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Buyback of Securities) Regulations, 2018.

The aforesaid application was necessitated on account of the transfer of 333,20,401 equity shares held by the promoter of the company, i.e., Government of India to the Asset Management Company (AMC) of Central Public Sector Enterprise Exchange Traded Fund (CPSE–ETF). This activity was carried out as a part of the government’s disinvestment process.

Oil India submitted that the proposed buy–back inter alia will help in optimizing its capital structure and improve its key financial ratios and would also lead to a reduction in outstanding shares, improvement in earnings per share and enhanced return on invested capital.

The Board noted that as per Regulation 28 of the Buy–back Regulations, SEBI may, in the interest of investors and the securities market, relax the strict enforcement of any requirement of aforesaid Regulations except the provisions incorporated from the Companies Act, if it is satisfied that the requirement is procedural in nature or the requirement may cause undue hardship to investors.

It opined that the strict enforcement of Regulation 24(i)(e) of Buy–Back Regulations against Oil India, at this point in time, may result in undue hardship to investors including shareholders of the company who may seek to participate in the proposed buyback. In view thereof, the exemption/relaxation sought for by Oil India was allowed.[Buy-back of securities in Oil India Ltd., In re, WTM/GM/CFD/87/2018–19, Order dated 31-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of N. Seshasayee, J., allowed an appeal on the ground that the respondent gave up his interest in the Order that he had obtained in his favour. 

The facts of this case are that respondent is the biological father of the child and the appellant is the maternal grand father of the child. Seeking custody of the minor child, the respondent filed a petition before the Additional District Court, and the same was ordered in his favour. Challenging the order of the lower Court, the appellant preferred the present appeal.

The counsel for petitioner, Advocate R.Shivakumar, argued that the respondent had gotten married and settled down and did not turn up to see his daughter. It was also reported that the child was 17 years and she does not remember to have seen her father.

The counsel for the respondent, Advocate N.U. Prasanna submitted that the respondent had no interest to take immediate custody of the child since the child was only few months to attain majority and that she had not been in his care through out the duration of this litigation.

This Court allowed the appeal on the ground that the respondent gave up his interest in the order that he had obtained in his favour. [R. Venkatesan v. J. Gunasekaran, 2017 SCC OnLine Mad 35492, Decided on 10-11-2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Arijit Banerjee, J. disposed of a writ petition by granting payment of interest to a retired employee on the amount of delayed payment of pension.

The petitioner was retired in 2007 while working as a teacher in a higher secondary school. The first payment order was issued in 2007 itself. Under ROPA Rules, 2009 there was a revision of pensionary and gratuity amount payable to the petitioner which order was made in 2012. The arrear revised pension was disbursed in 2013. The petitioner claimed interest on delayed payment of revised pension.

The High Court, at the outset, observed that the Limitation Act in terms does not apply to writ petition. Furthermore, it is a settled law that a retired employee is entitled to some amount of interest on delayed payment of pension. In the present case, it was a bounden duty of the State to disburse the due date. If it failed to do so and released such amount after an unexplained delay, it was obliged to pay interest to the retired employee. In such view of the matter, the Court directed the Director of Pension, Provident Fund and Group Insurance to pay interest to the writ petitioner at the rate of 9% per annum on the arrear of revised pension calculated on and from 1 June 2009 till actual date of payment. The petition was disposed of in the terms above. [Purna Chandra Mondal v. State of W.B.,2018 SCC OnLine Cal 7366, dated 03-10-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Valmiki Mehta, J. dismissed an appeal filed by the appellant-tenant impugning the judgment of the trial court whereby mesne profits were awarded to the respondent-landlord.

The appellant was a tenant in the subject premises. The tenancy commenced in 1986 and was terminated in 1998 vide legal notice. The appellant in the meanwhile, during the pendency of suit for possession and mesne profits, handed over the possession of the tenanted premises to the landlord in 1999. Therefore, the mesne profits were calculated from May 1998 to August 1999 (date of filing the suit to date of handing over of possession). Against the award of mesne profits, the appellant filed the present regular first appeal under Section 96 CPC.

The High Court noted that the trial court relied on the rent paid by another tenant to calculate the mesne profits. It was also observed that some amount of honest guess work is always involved in calculation of mesne profits, therefore, once the rent paid on similar premises on same area was taken as the basis, there was no illegality in the award of the mesne profits passed by the trial court. Furthermore, the definition of mesne profits in Section 2(12) CPC provides that mesne profits include the interest payable thereon. Holding that the judgment impugned did not require any interfere, the learned Judge went on to observe that there is no inherent right in citizens of this country, who are tenants, to violate the law by overstaying in the premises where the tenancy stands dismissed. The appeal was dismissed. [Hindustan Motors Ltd. v. Seven Seas Leasing Ltd.,2018 SCC OnLine Del 11391, decided on 19-09-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT): A two-member bench comprising of Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Chairperson and Justice Bansi Lal Bhat, Member (Judicial), dismissed an appeal filed by the Operational Creditor against the judgment of the National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai whereby appellant’s application under Section 9 I&B Code was dismissed.

The appellant had filed an application for initiation of Insolvency Resolution Process against the Corporate Debtor. Before the NCLT, the respondent submitted that the principal amount of debt due was already paid. The NCLT dismissed the application of the appellant. Aggrieved thus, the present appeal was filed. The appellant, placing reliance on Section 3(11) of the Code which defines debt, contended that debt means a liability or obligation in respect of a claim which is due from any person and includes a financial debt and operational debt. It was submitted that the debt as defined in the Code, includes the interest due on the principal amount as well.

The Appellate Tribunal was of the view that such submission was untenable. It is NCLT, not every interest that can be treated as a debt. If in terms of the agreement, interest is payable to the Operational or Financial Creditor, then the debt will include interest; otherwise, the principal amount is to be treated as debt which is the liability in respect of the claim that can be made from the Corporate Debtor. The Court noted that in the present matter, the principal amount had already been paid, and as per the agreement, no interest was payable. As such, the application under Section 9 on the basis of entitlement of payment of interest was not maintainable. The appeal was accordingly dismissed. [Krishna Enterprises v. Gammon India Ltd.,2018 SCC OnLine NCLAT 360, dated 27-07-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench comprising of G.S Sistani and V Kameswar Rao, JJ., dismissed an appeal under Section 37 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (hereinafter “Arbitration Act”) read with Section 10 of the Delhi High Court Act, 1966 and Section 13 of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 against the order of a Single Judge wherein the appellants had raised objections against the award of the arbitrator under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act.

The crux of the argument of the appellants was that the arbitrator failed to follow the principles of natural justice by not making a full and fair disclosure that he had been appointed as an arbitrator by the respondent in as many as 43 cases prior to the present case. The appellants pleaded that on this ground alone, the award rendered by the arbitrator should be set aside. The appellants, admittedly, had not urged this argument before the Single Judge.

The Court noticed that the arbitrator had issued a notice to the parties, wherein the following relevant sentence was quoted, “….currently adjudicating on multiple claims filed by the claimant company.” The order-sheet reflected that the hearing was attended by counsel for both parties. Consequently, the Court found no grounds for interfering with the order passed by the Single Judge for two reasons. The first being that the argument urged before the Court was not raised in front of the Single Judge, and secondly, the judgment in Aditya Ganapa v. Religare Finvest Ltd. (OMP No. 1038 of 2014, decided on 30.01.2015) relied on by the appellants did not fit in the factum of the present case where the arbitrator had indeed, disclosed his interest to the parties. Appeal dismissed. [Sidhi Industries v. M/s Religare Finvest Ltd.,  2017 SCC OnLine Del 12685, decided on 11.12.2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Antony Dominic and Dama Seshadri Naidu, JJ. heard appeals dealing with the issue as to whether interest accrued from donations received by a charitable institution are taxable or not. The respondent-assessee, a charitable institution, entitled to exemption under Section 11 of the Income Tax Act of 1961 (which deals with exemption from tax on income from property held for charitable or religious purposes), was receiving contributions from donors with express directions that the contributions were to be added by the assessee to its corpus which was exempt from tax.

However, the Revenue rejected this contention and the interest earned from the contributions was brought to tax. In appeal, the interest was exempted and the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal confirmed the order. The Revenue then approached the High Court in appeal. Perusing the conditions laid down in Section 11(1)(d) of the Income Tax Act, the Court came to the conclusion that “interest earned on the contributions already made by the donors would also partake the character of income in the form of voluntary contributions made with a specific direction that they shall form part of the corpus of the trust”. Therefore, the interest so earned would qualify for exemption under Section 11(1) of the Income Tax Act. [Commissioner of Income Tax, Kochi v. Mata Amrithanandamayi Math, 2017 SCC OnLine Ker 17573, dated  22.08.2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: The petition has been filed by the primary school assistant teacher asking for interest on the gratuity amount which was released to his account after a long delay. The petitioner retired from the position of primary school assistant teacher on 31.7.2002, and his gratuity amount which is his statutory right was released on 19.04.2004, thereby he claimed interest on the delayed payment.

Various orders of the court have settled that if there is any delay on the payment of gratuity to a retired employee, then he is absolutely liable to claim interest on the delay. Arijit Banerjee, J., by taking the reference of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Union of India v. Tarsem Singh, (2008) 8 SCC 648, stated that gratuity is not a bounty to be handed out by the State at its whim. If there is any delay in his payment of gratuity he is entitled to get interest on that delay. Therefore, the Director of Pension, Provident Fund and Group Insurance, Government of West Bengal as also the Treasury Officer concerned were directed to pay interest at the rate of 9% per annum on the calculated gratuity amount from August 1, 2002 till the actual payment date. [Ramchandra Majumdar v. State of West Bengal, 2017 SCC OnLine Cal 10043, decided on 19.07.2017]