Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Taking note of the depleting strength of the members of the NCLT and NCLAT, the 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ has issued certain directions and has asked the Government to complete the reappointment process “at the earliest and not later than two months”.

The direction came in the petition filed by the National Company Law Tribunal and Appellate Tribunal Bar Association seeking direction to the Central Government

  • to fill up the vacancies of Chairman, NCLAT and President of NCLT without any further delay.
  • to issue letters of appointment to the candidates pursuant to the Selection procedure initiated in 2019 and to fill up the remaining vacancies of Members of NCLT and NCLAT.
  • to extend the term of six Members of the NCLT and NCLAT for a further period of five years as they are completing the tenure by June, 2021.

The Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh had told the Court that the process for appointment of candidates who have been selected pursuant to the procedure which was initiated in 2019 shall be expedited and orders of appointment shall be issued soon. In respect of the process to be initiated for filling up the existing vacancies, a search cum Selection Committee has to be constituted. The Court, hence, directed that the Selection Process shall be initiated at the earliest.

On the issue of extension of the term of the Members of the NCLT and NCLAT who are completing their tenure in June, 2021 is concerned, Attorney General KK Venugopal submitted that the government has initiated the process for reappointment by requesting the Chief Justice of India to constitute a committee for the purposes of the reappointment of members to the NCLT and NCLAT.

As per Section 413 of the Company’s Act 2013, the President or other members of the Tribunal shall hold office for a period of 5 years and shall be entitled for reappointment for another term of 5 years.

The petitioner, however, requested that the members who are completing their tenure should be permitted to continue till the process of reappointment is completed.

“… there are 39 members at present for a sanctioned strength of 63 and the depletion of the strength of the members will adversely affect the smooth functioning of the Tribunals.”

The Court, hence, directed the Government to complete the process within two months and said,

“As the Government has already initiated the process of reappointment by writing to the Hon’ble Chief Justice, we trust and hope that the reappointment process should be completed expeditiously, as there is no necessity of issuance of any advertisement for participation of other eligible candidates. Reappointment of members can be considered separately without waiting for the process of fresh appointments to commence.”

[National Company Law Tribunal and Appellate Tribunal Bar Association v. Ministry of Corporate Affairs, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 406, order dated 31.05.2021]


For Petitioner(s) Mr. A.S. Chandhiok, Sr. Adv. Mr. Virender Ganda, Sr. Adv. Mr. Ajay Kumar Jain, Adv Mr. Rakesh Kumar, Adv Mr. Vipul Ganda, Adv Mr. Vishal Ganda, Adv Mr. Satyajit A. Desai, Adv. Mrs. Anagha S Desai, AOR Ms. Aastha Trivedi, Adv Ms. Guresha Bhamra, Adv Mr. Tejasvi Chaudhry, Adv Mr. Satya Kam Sharma, Adv.

For Respondent(s) Mr. KK Venugopal, Ld. AG Mr. Balbir Singh, Ld. ASG Mr. R. Balasubramanium, Sr. Adv. Mr. Zoheb Hossain, Adv Ms. Shradha Deshmukh, Adv. Ms. Chinmayee Chandra, Adv. Mr. Shyam Gopal, Adv. Mr. Ankur Talwar, Adv. Ms. Suhasini Sen, Adv. Mr. Gurmeet Singh Makker, AOR

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania: While deliberating upon the question that whether no-hire, or “no poach,” provisions that are ancillary to a services contract between business entities are enforceable under the laws of Pennsylvania, the Bench of Baer, CJ., and Saylor, Todd, Donohue, Dougherty, Wecht and Mundy, JJ., unanimously held that no-hire provision creates a likelihood of harm to the public, i.e., non-parties to the contract. “The no-hire provision impairs the employment opportunities and job mobility of PLS employees, who are not parties to the contract, without their knowledge or consent and without providing consideration in exchange for this impairment”. Such provisions undermine free competition in the labor market in the shipping and logistics industry, which creates a likelihood of harm to the general public, thus in the instant case the “no- hire” provision is unenforceable.

Facts:

Pittsburgh Logistics Systems, Inc. (hereinafter “PLS”) is a third-party logistics provider that arranges for the shipping of its customers’ freight with selected trucking companies. Beemac Trucking (hereinafter “Beemac”) is a shipping company that conducts non-exclusive business with PLS. In August 2010, PLS and Beemac entered into a one-year Motor Carriage Services Contract, which automatically renewed on a year to year basis until either party terminated it. It contained both a non-solicitation provision and the no-hire provision. While the contract was in force, Beemac hired four PLS employees.

On 29th November, 2016, PLS filed an action in the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County against Beemac alleging breach of contract, tortious interference with contract, violation of the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act, and civil conspiracy. PLS also sued its 4 former employees for breach of contract, alleging they had breached the non-competition and non-solicitation provisions of their employment contracts. Following a three-day preliminary injunction hearing, the Trial Court refused to enforce the no-hire provision, finding the provision violated public policy. Subsequently the PLS appealed, but the Superior Court affirmed the Trial Court’s decision.

Contentions:

PLS contended before the Court that by voiding the no-hire provision, the Superior Court disregarded Pennsylvania public policy which advised it to enforce the terms of the agreement that these parties who were on a level playing field negotiated in good faith and entered at arm’s length. PLS further stated that the cases relied upon by the Superior Court in support of its conclusions are distinguishable, and that “cases enforcing no-hire provisions are not only based on sound jurisprudential grounds, but are properly appreciative of the economic context and business realities that lead intermediary companies, like PLS, to find them necessary to further their business interests”.

Per contra, Beemac stated that that the Superior Court correctly applied Pennsylvania law regarding restraints of trade in holding that the no-hire provision violates public policy. It was argued that PLS failed to explain why a company, already in a superior bargaining position when hiring and negotiating with employees, should be free to contract away the rights of its employees by way of contracts to which they are not parties and for which they receive no consideration. Beemac drew the attention of the Court upon the fact that recently the Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken a strong stand against no-hire restrictions. Beemac further argued that governmental rejection of no-hire restraints “is firmly rooted in long-established ethical and moral standards

Observations:

Noting that there is a dearth of Pennsylvania case laws with regards to ‘no-hire’ provisions, therefore in order to resolve the dispute the Court deemed it fit to review the judgments of other jurisdictions upon which the parties have relied on.

Upon extensive perusal of the case laws cited by the parties, the Court observed that, “To determine the enforceability of a provision in restraint of trade that is ancillary, or supplementary, to the principal purpose of a contract, we employ a balancing test to determine the reasonableness of the restraint in light of the parties’ interests that the restraint aims to protect and the harm to other contractual parties and the public”. Applying the said balancing test, the Court noted that in the instant case the no-hire hire provision was ancillary to the principal purpose of the shipping contract between PLS and Beemac. The no-hire provision is a restraint on trade because the two commercial entities agreed to limit competition in the labor market by promising to restrict the employment mobility of PLS employees. The Court further observed that PLS had a legitimate interest in preventing its business partners from poaching its employees, who had developed specialized knowledge and expertise in the logistics industry during their training at PLS; however, the no-hire provision is both greater than needed to protect PLS’s interest and creates a probability of harm to the public. It is overbroad because it precludes Beemac, and any of its agents or independent contractors, from hiring, soliciting, or inducing any PLS employee or affiliate for the one-year term of the contract plus two years after the contract ends. The no-hire provision precluded Beemac from hiring or soliciting all PLS employees, regardless of whether the PLS employees had worked with Beemac during the term of the contract.

Agreeing with the observations of the Superior Court, the Bench concluded that PLS enforced the no-hire provision by seeking to enjoin Beemac from employing the former PLS employees who had already left PLS and obtained employment with Beemac. If PLS was successful, the effect of its enforcement of the no-hire provision would have deprived its former employees of their current jobs and livelihoods; “Balancing PLS’s interest against the overbreadth of the no-hire provision and the likelihood of harm to the public, we conclude that the no-hire provision is unreasonably in restraint of trade and therefore unenforceable”.

[Pittsburgh Logistics Systems, Inc. v. Beemac Trucking LLC., No. 31 WAP 2019, decided on 29.04.2021]  


Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a corporate dispute case, the 3-Judge Bench comprising of R.F. Nariman, B.R. Gavai* and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ., held that,

“The company Court while exercising its powers under sections 433 and 434 of the Companies Act would not be in a position to decide, as to who was at fault in not complying with the terms and conditions of the deed of settlement and the compromise deed.”

The respondent–M/s Indian Acrylics Ltd. was a manufacturer of acrylic yarn which had entered into a transaction with the appellant–M/s Shital Fibers Ltd., under which the respondent was to supply acrylic yarn to the to the appellant on credit basis. As per the arrangement, the respondent supplied material worth Rs.81,98,014.45 regarding which there was an outstanding balance of Rs.8,92,723 to be paid to the respondent. As the payment was not made despite notice being duly served on the appellant, the respondent filed a Company Petition seeking winding up of the present appellant for its inability to pay admitted debts.

Findings of the Courts Below

The Company Judge granted an opportunity to the appellant to settle the accounts with the respondent and in case of failure to make the settlement; the citation was directed to be published. The order of Company Court was challenged before the High Court by the appellant. Meanwhile, the disputed amount was paid by the appellant. The High Court held that there was no bona fide dispute as the appellant had satisfied the respondent’s claim. Although, the High Court denied to enter into the claim with regard to interest at the rate of 24% per annum, as to whether the appellant was liable to pay interest to the respondent, it granted liberty to the respondent to seek interest amount by way of application or appeal.

Issues Before the Court

The appellant claimed that his defense was bona-fide as the respondent had supplied defective material. On account of which, the appellant had suffered huge losses and as such, he was  entitled to receive the damages from the respondent.

Observations and Analysis by the Court

The Bench observed that it is well settled that where the debt is undisputed, the court will not act upon a defence that the company has the ability to pay the debt but the company chooses not to pay that particular debt. The principles on which the court acts are firstly, that the defence of the company is in good faith and one of substance, secondly, the defence is likely to succeed in point of law and thirdly the company adduces prima facie proof of the facts on which the defence depends. Relying on the decision in Madhusudan Gordhandas & Co. vs. Madhu Woollen Industries Pvt. Ltd., (1971) 3 SCC 632, the Bench stated that, If the debt is bona fide disputed and the defense is a substantial one, the court cannot wind up the company.

Regarding the claim of the appellant that defective material was supplied by the respondent; the Court concurred with the findings of the Company Judge and the High Court that the defence sought by the appellant was an after­thought, as no document was placed on record in support of such contention.  

The Bench stated that the defence of the appellant was neither bona-fide nor substantial as no prima facie evidence was produced by the appellant to buttress his claim. Lastly, the Court held that, “The company Court while exercising its powers under sections 433 and 434 of the Companies Act would not be in a position to decide, as to who was at fault in not complying with the terms and conditions of the deed of settlement and the compromise deed.”

Hence, holding the defence of the appellant not to be bona fide, in good faith and of substance, the Bench dismissed the appeal for being devoid of merit.

[Shital Fibers Ltd. v. Indian Acrylics Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 281, decided on 06-04-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this story together 

*Judgment by: Justice B.R. Gavai

Know Thy Judge| Justice B.R. Gavai

Appearance before the Court by:

For the Appellant: Adv. Karan Nehra

For the Respondent: Adv. Tarun Gupta

Op EdsOP. ED.

With the introduction of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 (“the IBC”), the multiple Benches of the National Company Law Tribunal have been flooded with petitions (mainly under Sections 7 and 9 of IBC). Two features of the IBC found attraction with petitioners that invoked the jurisdiction of the NCLT: (i) the time-bound nature offered by the IBC vis-à-vis completion of resolution, revival and rehabilitation of companies; and (ii) the lack of discretionary jurisdiction provided to the NCLT whilst admitting/rejecting petitions. To elaborate, under the erstwhile winding-up regime, the High Courts could exercise its discretion in considering whether or not to wind up a company. Seeing as the NCLT was not assigned such discretionary jurisdiction, creditors have used the IBC as a tool for quick resolution of the debts due to them. However, serious questions of law are bound to arise when substituting a legal regime, especially to established legal credit and debt practices. The authors, being regular practitioners before the NCLT have sought to address some of these questions.

Issues

  1. Can the National Company Law Tribunal pass an order inter alia admitting a petition under Sections 7, 9 or 10 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016[1] against a company even after the passing of an order by the High Court concerned inter alia directing the commencement of winding up of the same company under inter alia Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956[2]?

If yes, then:

  1. Is it necessary to obtain leave from the High Court concerned prior to admitting a petition under inter alia Sections 7, 9 or 10 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016?

Analysis

  1. One of the reasons why the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (“IBC”) was enacted was to ensure speedy resolution of insolvent and bankrupt companies in India. The erstwhile regime of winding up under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956 and the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act, 1985[3] (“SICA”) were seemingly ineffective insofar as providing a timely resolution of such companies that were unable to pay their debts are concerned. With no definitive timeline set out in the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956, winding up proceedings before the respective High Courts in India took up years in litigation (especially including appellate proceedings). The same could be said about the proceedings before the Board of Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (“BIFR”) under the provisions of SICA. In effect, the IBC is a successor statute to the provisions relating to winding up under the Companies Act, 1956 and SICA. In fact, as per the information published by the Official Liquidator attached to the Bombay High Court on its website, 1478 companies are currently undergoing liquidation under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956. In case of one of them, Akhil Bharat Printers Ltd. , the order of winding up had been made on 22-6-1956 – making it amongst the first companies to be ordered to be wound up under the (then new and novel) Companies Act[4]. Needless to say, a need was felt to streamline the manner in which corporate insolvency could be dealt with. The SICA, as has been noted by the Supreme Court of India in Swiss Ribbons (P)   v. Union of India [5], also failed to ameliorate the situation and rather contributed to the creation of what  R.F. Nariman, J. referred to as a “defaulter’s paradise[6].
  1. The path towards the IBC began in the year 1999 when the Central Government established the Justice Eradi Committee to formulate a framework to replace SICA, as it was felt insufficient and inefficient. The report of this committee culminated in the promulgation of the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2002, and the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Repeal Act, 2003. A framework was sought to be created within the Companies Act, 1956, itself for restructuring of stressed corporations. However, the relevant portion of this amendment, and consequently the entirety of the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Repeal Act of 2003, was not brought into force due to several legal challenges and hurdles, including challenges to the formation and constitution of National Company Law Tribunals.
  1. The framework mooted in the amendment, however, continued to evolve notwithstanding that it was stillborn. The framework proposed in the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2002, found its way, with some modifications, into the Companies Act, 2013. However, the legal challenges to the National Company Law Tribunals persisted and Chapter XIX of the Companies Act, 2013, which was to be the comprehensive framework for corporate insolvency could not be enforced. Ultimately, the Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee submitted its report[7] to the Government of India on 4-11-2015 and this report became the basis for the IBC. As things would transpire, the IBC came into force by repealing Chapter XIX of the Companies Act, 2013, before it could be enforced.
  1. Since its enactment, the IBC has been, largely, well received and has even been considered as one the reasons attributed to India’s rise in the Ease of Doing Business Index[8]. However, like most newly enacted legislations in India, several questions of law arose from various proceedings before the National Company Law Tribunal (“ NCLT”), the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India. One of these questions of law is the first issue that the authors shall address, can the NCLT pass an order inter alia admitting a petition under Sections 7, 9 or 10 of the IBC against a company even after the passing of an order by the High Court concerned inter alia directing the commencement of winding up of the same company under inter alia Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956? While there are multiple judgments of our courts and tribunals that address this question, not all lawyers and Judges in our country seem to have a unified answer to this question.

5. Pre-IBC Jurisprudence

5.1 Before referring to judgments that address the first issue, it is of relevance to understand an aspect of erstwhile winding-up regime vis-à-vis the SICA. For example, a question of law akin to the aforementioned first issue arose in Real Value Appliances Ltd. Canara Bank[9] (Real Value Appliances), where a Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India held inter alia that the intent of the SICA is to:

(a) revive and rehabilitate a company before it can be wound up under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956;

(b) ensure that no proceedings against the assets of a company are taken before a decision has been arrived at by BIFR for in the event a company’s assets are sold, or if a company is wound up it may become difficult later to restore status quo ante.

The relevant portions of the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of India in Real Value Appliances[10] have been culled out and reproduced hereinbelow:

“23.… the [SICA] is intended to revive and rehabilitate sick industries before they can be wound up under the [Companies Act, 1956]. Whether the Company seeks a declaration that it is sick or some other body seeks to have it declared as a sick company, it is, in our opinion, necessary that the Company be heard before any final decision is taken under the Act. It is also the legislative intention to see that no proceedings against the assets are taken before any such decision is given by  BIFR for in case the Company’s assets are sold, or the Company wound up it may indeed become difficult later to restore the status quo ante…

5.2 In Rishabh Agro Industries Ltd. P.N.B. Capital Services Ltd.[11] (Rishabh Agro Industries), a Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India, whilst following the holding in Real Value Appliances[12], held that a reference in terms of Section 15 of the SICA could be made to BIFR for revival/resolution of a company even after the passing of a winding up order by the High Court. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that the passing of a winding up order under inter alia Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956 is not a culmination of proceedings before the High Court concerned. The Court further noted that the passing of a winding up order under inter alia Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956 is, in fact, the commencement of the process which only meets its end when an order of dissolution is passed under Section 481 of the Companies Act, 1956. The relevant portions of this judgment have been culled out and reproduced hereinbelow:

“9.… it cannot be said that … the provision of Section 22 [of the SICA] [which is para materia to Section 14 [of the IBC] would not be attracted after the order of winding up of the company is passed… the effect of [Section 22 of the SICA] would be applicable even after the winding-up order is passed…

*                                    *                       *

  1. It may also be noticed that winding-up order passed under [the Companies Act, 1956] is not the culmination of the proceedings pending before the Company Judge but is in effect the commencement of the process. The ultimate order to be passed in such a petition is the dissolution of the company in terms of Section 481 of [the Companies Act, 1956] …

5.3 In Madura Coats Ltd. Modi Rubber Ltd.[13] (Madura Coats), a Full Bench of the Supreme Court of India:

(a) affirmed the aforementioned holdings of its Division Bench judgments in Real Value Appliances[14] and Rishabh Agro Industries[15];

(b) held that once a reference was made to BIFR under Sections 15 and 16 of the SICA, the provisions of the SICA would come into play and would prevail over the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956. Therefore, in such circumstances, proceedings under the Companies Act, 1956 shall give way to proceedings under the SICA.

The relevant portions of Madura Coats[16] have been culled out and reproduced hereinbelow:

“20. While referring to the provisions of  SICA, this Court in Real Value [Appliances] […][17] […] held that [the] SICA is intended to revive and rehabilitate a sick industry before it can be wound up under [the Companies Act, 1956]. The legislative intention is to ensure that no proceedings against the assets of the company are taken before any decision is taken by BIFR because if the assets are sold or the company is wound up, it may become difficult to later restore the status quo ante…

                                    *                              *                      *

  1. … this Court in Rishabh Agro [Industries] […][18] took the view that it could not be said that the provisions of Section 22 of SICA would not be attracted after an order of winding up is passed. While referring to this section it was held that there was no doubt that the provision would be applicable even after the winding-up order is passed and no proceedings even thereafter could be taken under [the Companies Act, 1956]. It was noted that a winding-up order passed under [the Companies Act, 1956] is not the culmination of the proceedings before the Company Court but is in effect the commencement of the process which ultimately would result in the dissolution of the company in terms of Section 481 of [the Companies Act, 1956]…

                                           *                                      *                                  *

  1. From the above it is quite clear that different situations can arise in the process of winding up a company under [the Companies Act, 1956] but whatever be the situation, whenever a reference is made to BIFR under Sections 15 and 16 of SICA, the provisions of SICA would come into play and they would prevail over the provisions of [the Companies Act, 1956] and proceedings under [the Companies Act, 1956] must give way to proceedings under SICA.”

6. Post-IBC Jurisprudence

6.1 In Jotun India (P) Ltd. PSL Ltd.[19] (Jotun II), a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court whilst inter alia adjudicating the conflict of law between the provisions of the IBC and the Companies Act, 1956, held that the provisions of the IBC shall prevail over the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956. What is interesting to note here is that while adjudicating this question of law, the Bombay High Court drew a parallel with the provisions of the SICA and the holding of the Supreme Court of India in Madura Coats[20]. The relevant portions of the judgment of the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court in Jotun II[21] have been culled out and reproduced hereinbelow:

“35. A comparative analysis of the provisions of [the] SICA clearly indicates that under the provisions of Section 22 of [the] SICA once the proceeding was initiated, the other proceedings pending before the different forums were suspended. In fact, there was an injunction operating in case the jurisdiction under [the] SICA was invoked by a concerned party. The learned counsel for the appellant made efforts to persuade us that the provisions of [the] SICA and [the] IBC are not pari-materia legislations to make it applicable to the saved petitions under [the Companies Act 1956] …In case the forum [i.e. the NCLT] under the IBC fails to revive the company or to successfully complete the resolution plan, then whether the Company Court and the NCLT would go ahead simultaneously in liquidating the company and complete the winding up proceedings. This situation needs to be harmonized and balanced.

36.We may refer to observations made by the Supreme Court in respect of provisions of [the] SICA in [Madura Coats][22], in paras 27 and 28 which read as under:

                           *                         *                        *

  1. There could be a situation where there are two special statutes operating in the field or a special statute and statute generally governing the field, which may be referred to as general law. Even if it is considered that in respect of subject-matter there are two special statutes operating, one [the Companies Act, 1956] and other [the] IBC […], we need to have a purposive approach and harmonious interpretation to the provisions of law. A harmonious and balanced approach is required to be adopted for the purpose of interpreting the IBC […] and the jurisdictional limitations and areas operating in respect of saved petitions before the Company Court.
  2. The purpose of the IBC […] and the NCLT hearing petitions is primarily to revive the company by having a resolution method. Whereas in the winding up petition pending before the Company Court, ultimate approach and object is to wound up the company. Even under the IBC, if efforts to revive the company fails, then the liquidation proceedings get initiated under Chapter III of the IBC […]. Taking into consideration the statutory scheme of the IBC […] we are of the view that [the] NCLT constitutes a separate and distinct forum and it cannot be attributed to be a subordinate forum to the Company Court as constituted under [the Companies Act, 1956].
  3. The general legal principles of interpretation of statute state that the general law should yield to the special law. In the context of the present statute i.e. [the] IBC […], we are of the view that [the Companies Act, 1956] could be treated as general law and IBC […] to be a special statute to the extent of the provisions relating to revival or resolution of the company as per provision under Chapter II of the IBC. Even if [the Companies Act, 1956] and the IBC […] are considered as special statutes operating in their respective field, we are of the view that the IBC […] being later enactment and in view of the statement and objects and the purpose for which it was enacted, the provisions relating to revival/resolution of the company incorporated under Chapter II will have to be given primacy over the provisions of the winding up proceeding pending before the Company Courts […]

6.2 In Bank of Baroda Topworth Pipes & Tubes (P) Ltd.[23] (Topworth Pipes & Tubes), a Division Bench of the NCLT (Mumbai Bench) whilst inter alia relying on Rishabh Agro Industries[24], Madura Coats[25] and Jotun II[26], admitted a petition filed under Section 7 of the IBC against a company even after the passing of an order directing the commencement of winding up against the same company. The underlying inspiration for admitting the petition in Topworth Pipes & Tubes[27] by the NCLT (Mumbai Bench) appears to be drawn from the reasoning adopted by the Supreme Court of India in Rishabh Agro Industries[28], viz the passing of an order under Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956 inter alia directing the commencement of winding up is in not a culmination of proceedings, rather the proceedings culminate when an order of dissolution under Section 481 of the Companies Act, 1956 is passed. The NCLT (Mumbai Bench) did, however, note that in view of the provisions of Section 11(d) of the IBC, a petition filed under Section 10 of the IBC cannot be admitted should a winding up order under Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956 already have been passed. The relevant portions of Topworth Pipes & Tubes[29] have been culled out and reproduced hereinbelow:

“8… the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court [in Jotun II][30] […] held as under:                                                                                                                                                      ***

  1. The [IBC] itself contemplates a bar on filing an application for insolvency resolution under specific circumstances by certain entities. Section 11(d) of the [IBC] inter alia prohibits a corporate debtor against which a liquidation order has been passed from making an application for initiating corporate insolvency resolution process… The intention of the legislation is clear from Section 11(d) of the [IBC], which only bars insolvency proceedings against a corporate debtor, after an order of liquidation against it, in case of an application by the said corporate debtor itself and conspicuously omits any such restriction for applications by financial or operational creditors.

                                                    ***

  1. The Supreme Court in [Rishabh Agro Industries][31] has held that:

    *                                                 *                                            *

  1. The aforesaid findings in the matter of [Rishabh Agro Industries][32] have been relied upon by the Supreme Court in para 25 in [Madura Coats][33]

      *                                          *                                                      *

  1. In light of the aforesaid, the position seems settled that an order of winding up or liquidation in no manner means a culmination of proceedings and it is only once an order under Section 481 of [the Companies Act, 1956] is passed for dissolution of the company that the proceedings culminate.

15.… not only can a company be revived post an order of winding up but the ‘proceedings’ post an order of winding up would be covered under the term ‘proceedings’ under Section 14 of the [IBC] and would necessarily be stayed upon admission of an insolvency application under the [IBC].

  1. The question of applicability of the moratorium under SICA to ‘proceedings’ post a winding up order was before the Supreme Court in [Madura Coats][34]. The Supreme Court has held as under: […]

18.The  Supreme Court in  [Rishabh Agro Industries][35] examined the operation of the moratorium under the SICA to ‘proceedings’ post winding up in greater detail and held as under:

                           *                         *                     *

21… The object of the Code, as is evident from its “Statement and Objects” is to provide a consolidated legal framework for insolvency resolution in a time bound manner. Under the winding up provisions under [the Companies Act, 1956] a single creditor, whose debt was undisputed could wind up a company, thus bringing about its untimely financial death of a debtor. The [IBC] on the other hand mandatorily requires that an attempt at revival be made by appointing an [Interim Resolution Professional] to examine whether such company can be revived…

22.… It is hence clear that the object of the [IBC] would be defeated in its entirety if a petition for insolvency resolution could not be admitted after an order of winding up has been passed. As discussed above, till an order under Section 481 of [the Companies Act, 1956] is passed there is scope to revive a company…

23.… Hence, it could never be the intention of the legislature that despite the existence of the provisions of [the IBC], a company should be wound up without giving it a chance for resolution of its insolvency…

*                                                       *                                                                       *

  1. … We hereby admit this petition filed under Section 7 of [the IBC] against the corporate debtor for initiating corporate insolvency resolution process against the corporate debtor and declare moratorium with consequential directions…

6.3 In Forech India Ltd. Edelweiss Assets Reconstruction Co. Ltd.[36] (Forech India), a Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India, while validating Jotun II[37], held that the bar imposed vide Section 11(d) of the IBC only applies to petitions under Section 10 of the IBC and not to petitions under Sections 7 or 9. The relevant portions of Forech India[38] have been culled out and reproduced hereinbelow:

“20. … We may hasten to add that the law declared [in Jotun II[39]] has our approval.

*                                                    *                                                                  *

  1. … Section [11(d)] is of limited application and only bars a corporate debtor from initiating a petition under Section 10 of the [IBC] in respect of whom a liquidation order has been made. From a reading of this section, it does not follow that until a liquidation order has been made against the corporate debtor, an insolvency petition may be filed under Section 7 or Section 9 as the case may be, as has been held by the [National Company Law] Appellate Tribunal…”

7. Addressing the 1st Issue

7.1 What can be stated without any uncertainty is that in view of the specific provisions of Section 11(d) read with Topworth Pipes & Tubes[40] and Forech India[41], is that a petition filed under Section 10 of the IBC against a company cannot be admitted by the NCLT in the event a prior order directing the commencement of winding up is passed under Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956 against the same company.

7.2 However, a harmonious reading of Real Value Appliances[42], Rishabh Agro Industries[43], Madura Coats[44], Jotun II[45], Topworth Pipes & Tubes[46] and Forech India[47] seems to suggest that petitions filed against a company under Sections 7 or 9 can be admitted by the NCLT even after the passing of an order directing the commencement of winding up is passed under Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956 against the same company unless an order of dissolution has already been passed under Section 481 of the Companies Act, 1956.

7.3 It is also noteworthy to mention the IBC, in a sense, is a successor statute to the SICA insofar as resolution, revival and rehabilitation are concerned. The Supreme Court in Real Value Appliances[48], Rishabh Agro Industries[49] and Madura Coats[50] has unequivocally held that a reference could be made to BIFR under the provisions of the SICA even after the passing of a winding up order. Considering this, the proposition that a company that has been ordered to be wound up (in accordance with inter alia Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956) cannot be resolved, revived or rehabilitated under the provisions of the IBC, but could be under the provisions of the SICA seem to be manifestly arbitrary and wholly unjust for the simple reason that such a company would lose an opportunity to resolve, revive and/or rehabilitate itself before being wound up/liquidated.

7.4 In summation, the specific answer to the 1st issue is: Yes, the NCLT can pass an order inter alia admitting a petition under Sections 7 or 9 of the IBC against a company even after the passing of an order passed by the High Court concerned inter alia directing the commencement of winding up of the same company under inter alia Section 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956. However, the NCLT cannot do the same in a petition filed under Section 10 of the IBC.

7.5 Of course, the matter does not necessarily end here. The IBC, through Section 255 read with the Eleventh Schedule, carried out several amendments to the Companies Act, 2013; including substitution of Section 434 of the Companies Act, 2013. The substituted Section 434 of the Companies Act, 2013 was also amended through the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, and the Companies (Removal of Difficulties) Fourth Order, 2016. Section 434 of the Companies Act, 2013 now reads as below:

434. Transfer of certain pending proceedings.- (1) On such date as may be notified by the Central Government in this behalf, —

(a) all matters, proceedings or cases pending before the Board of Company Law Administration (herein in this section referred to as the Company Law Board) constituted under sub-section (1) of Section 10-E of [the Companies Act, 1956], immediately before such date shall stand transferred to the [NCLT] and the [NCLT] shall dispose of such matters, proceedings or cases in accordance with the provisions of this Act;

(b) any person aggrieved by any decision or order of the Company Law Board made before such date may file an appeal to the High Court within sixty days from the date of communication of the decision or order of the Company Law Board to him on any question of law arising out of such order:

Provided that the High Court may if it is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing an appeal within the said period, allow it to be filed within a further period not exceeding sixty days; and

(c) all proceedings under [the Companies Act, 1956], including proceedings relating to arbitration, compromise, arrangements and reconstruction and winding up of companies, pending immediately before such date before any District Court or High Court, shall stand transferred to the [NCLT] and the [NCLT] may proceed to deal with such proceedings from the stage before their transfer:

Provided that only such proceedings relating to the winding up of companies shall be transferred to the Tribunal that are at a stage as may be prescribed by the Central Government:

Provided further that any party or parties to any proceedings relating to the winding up of companies pending before any Court immediately before the commencement of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance[…] 2018, may file an application for transfer of such proceedings and the Court may by order transfer such proceedings to the [NCLT] and the proceedings so transferred shall be dealt with by the [NCLT] as an application for initiation of corporate insolvency resolution process under the [IBC]:

Provided further that only such proceedings relating to cases other than winding-up, for which orders for allowing or otherwise of the proceedings are not reserved by the High Courts shall be transferred to the [NCLT]:

Provided further that –

(i) all proceedings under [the Companies Act, 1956] other than the cases relating to winding up of companies that are reserved for orders for allowing or otherwise such proceedings; or

(ii) the proceedings relating to winding up of companies which have not been transferred from the High Courts;

shall be dealt with in accordance with provisions of [the Companies Act, 1956] and the Companies (Court) Rules, 1959.

(2) The Central Government may make rules consistent with the provisions of this Act to ensure timely transfer of all matters, proceedings or cases pending before the Company Law Board or the courts, to the Tribunal under this section.”

                                                                                                      (emphasis supplied)

7.6 The second proviso to Section 434(1)(c) allows any party to a winding up proceeding to apply to the High Court where such winding up proceeding is pending for the purpose of transferring those proceedings to the NCLT which would thereafter initiate a Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process of that company in accordance with the provisions of the IBC. The Supreme Court of India had the occasion to examine the history and intent behind this provision in Jaipur Metals and Electricals Employees Organisation Jaipur Metals and Electricals Ltd. [51], where it was held:

“15.…This is further made clear by the amendment to Section 434(1)(c), with effect from [17 August 2018], where any party  to a winding up proceeding pending before a Court immediately before this date may file an application for transfer of such proceedings, and the Court, at that stage, may, by order, transfer such proceedings to the NCLT. The proceedings so transferred would then be dealt with by the NCLT as an application for initiation of the corporate insolvency resolution process under the Code. It is thus clear that under the scheme of Section 434 (as amended) and Rule 5 of the 2016 Transfer Rules, all proceedings under Section 20 of the [SICA] pending before the High Court are to continue as such until a party files an application before the High Court for transfer of such proceedings post [17 August 2018]. Once this is done, the High Court must transfer such proceedings to the NCLT which will then deal with such proceedings as an application for initiation of the corporate insolvency resolution process under the Code.”

7.7 Thus, the legislative intent appears to favour the IBC as a method of dealing with insolvent corporate entities even in respect of companies for which proceedings relating to their winding up are pending before a High Court under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956. A perusal of these provisions would show that the legislative intent is to give an option to the stakeholders of a company being wound up under inter alia Section 433 of the Companies Act, 1956 to apply to the High Court concerned for transfer of the proceedings so that they may be dealt with by the NCLT in accordance with the provisions of the IBC. It may also be noted that since the proceedings are being “transferred”, the bar of Section 11 of the IBC may also not apply to the transferred proceedings, as Section 434(1)(c) does not seem to suggest that the transferred proceeding is to be admitted as a normal petition under Sections 7, 9 or 10. In fact, this would be perverse as that would give scope to the NCLT to reject a transferred petition – thus indirectly reviving a company which had been ordered to be wound up.

8. Addressing the 2nd Issue

8.1 This brings us to an important question of law the 2nd issue which had not been addressed in Topworth Pipes & Tubes[52]. The provisions of Section 446 of the Companies Act, 1956 make it manifestly clear that once a company has been be directed to be wound up, the continuance or initiation of any legal proceeding against the company can only be done after obtaining leave of the High Court that directed the commencement of winding up of that company.

8.2 In fact, in Murli Industries Ltd. Primo Pick N. Pack (P) Ltd. [53] (Murli Industries), a Single Judge Bench of the Bombay High Court has specifically held that in the event a company has been directed to be wound up/liquidated under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956, Section 446 mandates that leave of the High Court be sought prior to initiation or continuance of proceedings under Sections 7 or 9 of the IBC. The relevant portions of Murli Industries[54] have been culled out and reproduced hereinbelow:

“33. Section 446 [of the Companies Act, 1956] is an intrinsic part of that process. It mandates that leave of the Company Court to file or continue with any such proceeding, must be obtained. The rationale being that the Company Court must be made aware of any other claims raised against the Company so that it can effectively go about its job of liquidation of the Company. If this is not to happen, there would be a reasonable possibility of two conflicting claims being made and allowed in respect of the Company and authorities allowing such claims would be at their wit’s end in implementing them. Resolution of insolvency of a Company and liquidation of a Company are two processes which pull at each other. Former is about rejuvenation of life and the latter is about termination of life. In such a case, the logic of law, here Section 446 of [the Companies Act, 1956], would require that a forum dealing with a proceeding more drastic in consequences is allowed to take a call on the revival possibility of the Company before it is too late in the day. This would mean that no application can be filed or continued with regard to initiation of resolution process under Chapter II of Part II of the IBC without leave of the Company Court under Section 446(1) of [the Companies Act, 1956]. It would then follow that if any resolution process is initiated without leave of the Company Court, it would be a defective proceeding in the eye of the IBC read with [the Companies Act 1956]. Such a proceeding will acquire sanctity only when leave under Section 446(1) of [the Companies] Act 1956] is granted…

  1. Such an interpretation, in my considered view, is also consistent with the legislative intent as broadly reflected by the aims and objects of the IBC.

 *                                                 *                                  *

  1. The object of the IBC is to consolidate and amend the law relating to re-organisation and insolvency resolution of the corporate persons, partnership firms and individuals in a time-bound manner for maximisation of value of assets of such persons, to promote entrepreneurship, availability of credit and balance the interests of all the stakeholders. The whole theme of [the] IBC is based upon efficacy and speed to be achieved in making efforts to revive a dying Company, and securing protection of the interests of its creditors and other stakeholders. The object of the IBC is not to repeal [the Companies Act, 1956] and substitute it by another enactment, but it is to consolidate and amend relevant laws. Such an object of the IBC should underline the need for attaining harmony while interpreting the provisions of […] the IBC […] qua Section 446 of [the Companies Act, 1956] so that what is in the best of interests of the Company and its stakeholders is allowed to happen in a natural way. This is what I have done in the present case and accordingly, I conclude that leave to continue with the proceedings before the NCLT, under Section 446(1) of [the Companies Act, 1956], is necessary …

8.3 In view of this, the answer to the 2nd issue is: Leave of the concerned would be required to be obtained for the continuation or initiation of proceedings filed under Sections 7 or 9 of the IBC. However, we would have to also consider Section 434 of the Companies Act, 2013, described above. Taking the essence of the judgments set out above and applying them to Section 466(1) of the Companies Act, 1956, as well as Section 434(1)(c) of Companies Act, 2013, a picture emerges where the legislature intends for pending winding up proceedings to be transferred rather than for individual creditors to invoke the IBC without involving the High Court seized of the winding up proceedings. This would make sense as the High Court cannot be denuded of any discretion in the matter. For example, if the Official Liquidator has identified avoidable transactions during the course of his activities, or has taken out proceedings alleging misfeasance against the erstwhile management of the company in liquidation, the High Court may choose to decline transferring the proceedings out of its jurisdiction pending the outcome of those proceedings. That being said, judicial pronouncements consistently suggest that the route of IBC is preferable to winding up under the Companies Act, 1956.

9. To summarise, in the event a company has been directed to be wound up by a High Court under Sections 433(e) r/w Section 434 of the Companies Act, 1956, the NCLT may admit a petition filed under Sections 7 or 9 of the IBC provided leave has been granted by the High Court concerned in terms of Section 446 of the Companies Act, 1956, or the High Court concerned makes an order for transferring the proceedings under Section 434(1)(c) of the Companies Act, 2013. However, in the former case, petitions under Section 10 of the IBC are not maintainable in the event an order directing the commencement of winding up has already been passed.


*Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India, BBA LLB, Symbiosis Law School (a constituent of Symbiosis International University)

**Advocate, Bombay High Court, BA LLB, Symbiosis Law School (a constituent of Symbiosis International University)

[Authors’ Note: The views expressed herein are personal and independent. No third party has funded inter alia the issuance of this paper or the research conducted by the authors. The authors have based their views in this research paper on prevalent legislation, judicial opinions/interpretations pertaining to the same and their experience as practicing advocates in India.]

[1] Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016

[2] Companies Act, 1956

[3] Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act, 1985 

[4]http://www.officialliquidatormumbai.com/pdf/Alphabetical%20List%20Under%20Liquidation.pdf

[5] (2019) 4 SCC 17

[6]Ibid  at para 121, p. 121

[7] Reports on Insolvency and Bankruptcy, Viswanathan Committee Report (Insolvency and Bankruptcy)

[8]Srivastava, P. “Ease of Doing Business 2019: GST, IBC big winners; list of reforms that put India among top 10 improvers”. Financial Express (dated 31 October 2018). https://www.financialexpress.com/economy/ease-of-doing-business-2019-gst-ibc-big-winners-list-of-reforms-that-put-india-among-top-10-improvers/1368186/

[9] (1998) 5 SCC 554

[10]Ibid

[11] (2000) 5 SCC 515

[12] (1998) 5 SCC 554

[13](2016) 7 SCC 603

[14] (1998) 5 SCC 554

[15] (2000) 5 SCC 515

[16] (2016) 7 SCC 603

[17] (1998) 5 SCC 554

[18]  (2000) 5 SCC 515

[19] 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1952

[20]  (2016) 7 SCC 603

[21] 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1952

[22] (2016) 7 SCC 603

[23] 2018 SCC OnLine NCLT 31299

[24] (2000) 5 SCC 515

[25] (2016) 7 SCC 603

[26] 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1952

[27] 2018 SCC OnLine NCLT 31299

[28] (2000) 5 SCC 515

[29] 2018 SCC OnLine NCLT 31299, pp. 8-14

[30] 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1952

[31] (2000) 5 SCC 515

[32]Ibid

[33]  (2016) 7 SCC 603

[34] (2016) 7 SCC 603

[35] (2000) 5 SCC 515

[36] 2019 SCC OnLine SC 87

[37] 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1952

[38]  2019 SCC OnLine 87

[39] 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1952

[40] 2018 SCC OnLine NCLT 31299

[41]  2019 SCC OnLine 87

[42] (1998) 5 SCC 554

[43] (2000) 5 SCC 515

[44] (2016) 7 SCC 603

[45]  2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1952

[46] 2018 SCC OnLine NCLT 31299

[47] 2019 SCC OnLine 87

[48] (1998) 5 SCC 554

[49]  (2000) 5 SCC 515

[50] (2016) 7 SCC 603

[51] (2019) 4 SCC 227

[52] 2018 SCC OnLine NCLT 31299

[53] 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 4178  

[54]Ibid

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and AS Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian*, JJ has held that the proceedings for winding up of a company are actually proceedings in rem to which the entire body of creditors is a party and the words “party  or parties” appearing in the 5th proviso to Clause (c) of Sub-section(1) of Section 434 the Companies Act, 2013 would take within its fold any creditor of the company in liquidation.

Scheme of Section 434

  • For the purpose of transfer, Section 434 classifies the winding up proceedings pending before the High Courts into two categories namely:

(a)Proceedings for voluntary winding up where notice of resolution by advertisement has been given under Section 485(1) of the Companies Act, 1956, but the company has not been dissolved before 01.04.2017; and

(b) Other types of winding up proceedings.

  • The first of the above 2 categories of cases are covered by the fourth proviso under Clause (c) of Sub­section (1) of Section 434, which states:

“Provided also that proceedings relating to cases of voluntary winding up of a company where notice of the resolution by advertisement has been given under subsection (1) of section 485 of the Companies Act, 1956 but the company has not been dissolved before the 1st  April, 2017 shall continue to be dealt with in accordance with provisions of the Companies Act, 1956 and the Companies (Court) Rules, 1959”.

  • Such cases of voluntary winding up covered by the above proviso shall continue to be dealt with by the High court. It is only (i) cases of voluntary winding up falling outside the scope of the 4th Proviso and (ii) other types of winding up proceedings, that can be transferred by the High Courts to the Tribunal, subject however to the Rules made by the Central Government under Section 434 (2).
  • The transferability, by operation of law, of winding up proceedings, other than those covered by the 4th Proviso, depends upon the stage at which they are pending before the Company Court. But this is left by the law makers to be determined through subordinate legislation, in the form of Rules.
  • Apart from providing for the transfer of certain types of winding up proceedings by operation of law, Section 434 (1)(c) also gives a choice to the parties to those proceedings to seek a transfer of such proceedings to the NCLT. This is under the fifth proviso to Clause (c).
  • The 5th proviso uses the words “any party or parties to any proceedings relating to the winding up of companies pending before any Court. Hence, the right to invoke the 5th proviso is specifically conferred only upon the parties to the proceedings. Therefore, on a literal interpretation, such a right should be held to be confined only to “the parties to the proceedings.”

Scheme of Companies (Transfer of Pending Proceedings) Rules, 2016

The pending proceedings for winding up are classified into three types namely:

  • proceedings for voluntary winding up covered by the fourth proviso to Clause (c) of Subsection (1) of Section 434, which shall continue to be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the 1956 Act;
  • proceedings for winding up on the ground of inability to pay debts; and
  • proceedings for winding up on grounds other than inability to pay debts.

The transferability of a winding up proceeding, both under Rule 5 as well as under Rule 6, is directly linked to the service of the winding up petition on the respondent under Rule 26 of the Companies (Court) Rules, 1959. The normal requirement of Rule 26 is that the copy of the petition under the Act shall be served on the respondent along with the notice of the petition, unless otherwise ordered. The notice of the petition, required under Rule 26 to be served along with the copy of the petition, should be in Form No.6, due to the mandate of Rule 27.

If the winding up petition has already been served on the respondent in terms of Rule 26 of the 1959 Rules, the proceedings are not liable to be transferred. But if service of the winding up petition on the respondent in terms of Rule 26 had not been completed, such winding up proceedings, whether they are under Clause (c) of Section 433 or under Clauses (a) and (f) of Section 433, shall peremptorily be transferred to the NCLT.

“Rules 5 and 6 of the Companies (Transfer of Pending Proceedings) Rules 2016, fix the stage of service of notice under Rule 26 of the Companies (Court) Rules, 1959, as the stage at which a winding up proceeding can be transferred. This is because the first proviso under Clause (c) of Sub-section (1) of Section 434 enables the Central Government to prescribe the stage at which proceedings for winding up can be transferred and subsection (2) of section 434 confers rule making power on the Central Government.”

Further, the restriction under Rules 5 and 6 of the 2016 Rules relating to the stage at which a transfer could be ordered, has no application to the case of a transfer covered by the 5th proviso to clause (c) of sub-section (1) of Section  434.

Who can be a “party to the proceedings”?

There are certain clues inherently available in the Companies Act, 1956, to indicate who can be a “party to the proceedings”. The provisions which contain such clues are as follows:

(i) Section 447 of the Companies Act, 1956, which is equivalent to Section 278 of the Companies Act, 2013 states that an order for winding up shall operate in favour of all the creditors and of all the contributories of the company as if it has been made on the joint petition of a creditor and of a contributory. There is a small change between the wording of Section 278 of the 2013 Act and the wording of Section 447 of the 1956 Act. Section 278 of the 2013 Act shows that any petition by a single creditor or contributory is actually treated as a joint petition of creditors and contributories, so that the order of winding up operates in favour of all the creditors and all the contributories.

(ii) Under Section 454(6) of the 1956 Act, any person stating himself in writing to be a creditor shall be entitled to inspect the statement of affairs submitted to the official liquidator. If the claim of such a person to be a creditor turns out to be untrue, such a person is liable to be punished under Section 454(7) of the 1956 Act.

(iii) The powers of the liquidator are enumerated in Section 457 of the 1956 Act. Section 457 actually divides the powers of a liquidator into two categories namely (i) those available with the sanction of the Tribunal and (ii) those generally available to the liquidator. But Section 290 of the 2013 Act has done away with such a distinction. However, the 1956 Act, as well as 2013 Act make the exercise of the powers by the liquidator, subject to the overall control of the Tribunal. This is made clear by Section 457(3) of the 1956 Act and Section 290(2) of the 2013 Act. Additionally, Section 457(3) of the 1956 Act enables any creditor or contributory to apply to the Court with respect to the exercise by the Liquidator, of any of the powers conferred by Section 457.

(iv) Section 460 of the 1956 Act and Section 292 of the 2013 Act make it clear that in the administration of the assets of the   Company   and   the   distribution   thereof   among   its creditors, the liquidator should have regard to any directions given by resolution of creditors at any general meeting. If the liquidator does something, in exercise of his powers, any person aggrieved by such Act or decision of the liquidator, is entitled to apply to the Company Court, under Section 460(6) of the 1956 Act and Section 292(4) of the 2013 Act.

(v) Section 466(1) of the 1956 Act enables any creditor to apply for stay of all proceedings in relation to the winding up. This right can be exercised by any creditor at any time after the making of a winding up order.

Hence, the proceedings for winding up of a company are actually proceedings in rem to which the entire body of creditors is a party. Such proceeding might have been initiated by one or more creditors, but by a deeming fiction the petition is treated as a joint petition. The official liquidator acts for and on behalf of the entire body of creditors. Therefore, the word “party” appearing in the 5th proviso to Clause (c) of Sub-section (1) of section 434 cannot be construed to mean only the single petitioning creditor or the company or the official liquidator.

Hence,

“If any creditor is aggrieved by any decision of the official liquidator, he is entitled under the 1956 Act to challenge the same before the Company Court. Once he does that, he becomes a party to the proceeding, even by the plain language of the section. Instead of asking a party to adopt such a circuitous route and then take recourse to the 5th proviso to section 434(1)(c), it would be better to recognise the right of such a party to seek transfer directly.”

[Kaledonia Jute and Fibres Pvt. Ltd v. Axis Nirman and Industries Ltd, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 943, decided on 19.11.2020]


*V. Ramasubramanian has penned this judgment

Advocates who appeared in the matter

For appellant: Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi,

For 1st respondent: Senior Advocate A.N.S. Nadkarni

For Official Liquidator: Advocate-on-Record Gp. Capt. Karan Singh Bhati

OP. ED.

Abstract

The National Company Law Tribunal and its appellate forum, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal have increasingly seen a significant rise in the number of proceedings filed before it. This significant rise can perhaps be associated with the increasing use of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 by litigants, leaving these Tribunals overburdened with cases pertaining to specific subject-matter jurisdiction, viz. inter alia Oppression and Mismanagement, Restoration of Companies and Insolvency and Bankruptcy. Given the concentrated focus on these specific subject-matter cases, many seem to be uncertain about the powers available to these Tribunals, including that of passing orders and issuing directions should these Tribunals find that a litigant has perjured itself before it. The authors have sought to address this issue in this research paper.

Issues

  1. Are the National Company Law Tribunal and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal “courts” within the ambit of Section 195 r/w Section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973?
  2. Do “judicial proceedings” [as mentioned in Section 424(4) of the Companies Act 2013] fall within the ambit of “any proceeding in any court” per Section 195(1)(b)(i) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973?
  3. Are there legal consequences to perjuring oneself before the National Company Law Tribunal or the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal?

The authors have reviewed the provisions of the  Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Companies Act, 2013 and judgments of the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India in order to address these questions. The relevant provisions of these codified laws and relevant portions of the said judgments have been referred to and even quoted hereinbelow.

Relevant Provisions of Law

Before addressing the issues at hand, it is pertinent to examine the existing legislation surrounding these issues.

1. The Companies Act, 2013

Section 424 – Procedure before [the National Company Law] Tribunal and [the National Company Law Appellate] Tribunal

Sub-section (4) states as follows:

“All proceedings before the [National Company Law] Tribunal or the [National Company Law] Appellate Tribunal shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228, and for the purposes of Section 196 of the Indian Penal Code [1860], and the [National Company Law] Tribunal and the [National Company Law] Appellate Tribunal shall be deemed to be civil courtfor the purposes of Section 195 and Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure […] 1973 […]”

2. The Penal Code, 1860

The following provisions form part of Chapter XI of the Penal Code, 1860 (IPC”), titled “Of False Evidence and Offences Against Public Justice”:

Section 191 – Giving False Evidence

Whoever, being legally bound by an oath or by an express provision of law to state the truth, or being bound by law to make a declaration upon any subject, makes any statement which is false, and which he either knows or believes to be false or does not believe to be true, is said to give false evidence.

Section 192 – Fabricating False Evidence

“Whoever causes any circumstance to exist or makes any false entry in any book or record, or electronic record or makes any document or electronic record containing a false statement, intending that such circumstance, false entry or false statement may appear in evidence in a judicial proceeding, or in a proceeding taken by law before a public servant as such, or before an arbitrator, and that such circumstance, false entry or false statement, so appearing in evidence, may cause any person who in such proceeding is to form an opinion upon the evidence, to entertain an errone­ous opinion touching any point material to the result of such proceeding, is said “to fabricate false evidence”.”

 Section 193 – Punishment for False Evidence

Whoever intentionally gives false evidence in any stage of a judicial proceeding, or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine; and whoever intentionally gives or fabricates false evidence in any other case, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 199 – False Statement made in Declaration which is by Law receivable as Evidence

“Whoever, in any declaration made or subscribed by him, which declaration any Court of Justice, or any public servant or other person, is bound or authorised by law to receive as evidence of any fact, makes any statement which is false, and which he either knows or believes to be false or does not believe to be true, touching any point material to the object for which the declaration is made or used, shall be punished in the same manner as if he gave false evidence.”

Section 209 – Dishonestly making False Claim in Court

Whoever fraudulently or dishonestly, or with intent to injure or annoy any person, makes in a Court of Justice any claim which he knows to be false, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, and shall also be liable to fine.

3. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Section 2(i) – Definition of ‘Judicial Proceeding’

‘judicial proceeding’ includes any proceeding in the course of which evidence is or may be legally taken on oath

Section 195 – Prosecution for Contempt of Lawful Authority of Public Servants, for Offences Against Public Justice and for Offences Relating to Documents Given in Evidence

Sub-section (1)(b)(i) states as follows:

No Court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under any of the following sections of [the IPC], namely, Sections 193 to 196 (both inclusive), 199, 200, 205 to 211 (both inclusive) and 228, when such offence is alleged to have been committed in, or in relation to, any proceeding in any Court…

Sub-section (3) states as follows:

In clause (b) of sub-section (1), the term ‘Court’ means a Civil, Revenue or Criminal Court, and includes a tribunal constituted by or under a Central, Provincial or State Act if declared by that Act to be a Court for the purposes of this section.

Section 340 – Procedure in Cases Mentioned in Section 195

Sub-section (1) states as follows:

“When, upon an application made to it in this behalf or otherwise, any Court is of opinion that it is expedient in the interests of justice that an inquiry should be made into any offence referred to in clause (b) of sub-section (1) of Section 195, which appears to have been committed in or in relation to a proceeding in that Court or, as the case may be, in respect of a document produced or given in evidence in a proceeding in that Court, such Court may, after such preliminary inquiry, if any, as it thinks necessary,—

(a) record a finding to that effect;

(b) make a complaint thereof in writing;

(c) send it to a Magistrate of the First Class having jurisdiction;

(d) take sufficient security for the appearance of the accused before such Magistrate, or if the alleged offence is non-bailable and the Court thinks it necessary so to do, send the accused in custody to such Magistrate; and

(e) bind over any person to appear and give evidence before such Magistrate.

Sub-section (4) states as follows:

In this section, ‘Court’ has the same meaning as in Section 195.

Analysis

1. The National Company Law Tribunal (“NCLT”) and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (“NCLAT”) are quasi-judicial adjudicating authorities set up under the provisions of Chapter XXVII the Companies Act, 2013 and deriving their jurisdiction under that legislation as well as the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (“IBC”). Their quasi-judicial nature stems from the fact that the members appointed to adjudicate disputes that are within the NCLT’s and the NCLAT’s jurisdiction are of two kinds: (i) Judicial Members i.e. appointees who have had sufficient experience as practicing advocates or as Judges; and (ii) Technical Members i.e. appointees who have had sufficient experience in inter alia finance and accountancy inter alia as chartered accountants, company secretaries and cost accountants. This distinction between Judicial and Technical Members has been more specifically captured in Section 409 of the Companies Act, 2013.

2. Broadly, the NCLT and the NCLAT hear disputes arising out of the Companies Act, 2013 that pertain to inter alia oppression and mismanagement, restoration of companies and proceedings under the IBC. Even though the National Company Law Tribunal Rules, 2016 (“the NCLT Rules”) empowers the NCLT to receive evidence and conduct examination and cross-examination of witnesses in its proceedings[1], these proceedings are invariably conducted in a summary fashion inasmuch as no witnesses are directly examined or cross-examined before the Members of the NCLT or the NCLAT. The authors have not been able to identify any case where the NCLT has issued a commission for the collection of evidence in exercise of the provisions contained in Chapter XVIII of the NCLT Rules. The outcome of proceedings before these Tribunals are based on the documents produced, factual matrix surrounding the same and provisions of law that are applicable. Further, the pleadings in these proceedings are required to be supported by an affidavit which is duly sworn or affirmed on oath[2].

3. The jurisdiction of the NCLT (and consequently the NCLAT) must be understood in the context of the differences between the Companies Act, 1956 and the Companies Act, 2013. The path towards tribunalisation of matters arising out of the companies’ legislation has been a long and arduous one. The Companies Act, 1956 was amended in the year 1991 to introduce a “Company Law Board” with the power to hear certain matters arising out of it, most notably matters relating to oppression and mismanagement (which were earlier dealt with by the High Courts[3]). In the year 2002, the Companies Act, 1956 was further amended to introduce a version of National Company Law Tribunals. Challenges made to the constitutionality of these provisions persisted well into the tenure of the Companies Act, 2013; and only after the Supreme Court of India laid down guidelines relating to the constitution of specialised tribunals,[4] were the NCLT and the NCLAT as we know them today constituted. Section 430 of the Companies Act, 2013 specifically bars the jurisdiction of civil courts from entertaining any suit or proceeding which the NCLT or NCLAT is empowered to adjudicate upon. What this also means is that the NCLT and the NCLAT would be expected to deal with a dispute before it keeping in mind the same principles of natural justice and equity as would be binding upon a civil court. The ability of the NCLT to receive evidence and facilitate examination of witnesses is thus, in light of this, an integral part of its jurisdiction.

4. Given this specific jurisdiction legislatively assigned to the NCLT and the NCLAT and the fact that they are quasi-judicial authorities, many have been uncertain about the consequences of perjury in the NCLT or the NCLAT. In fact, given this specific jurisdiction assigned to the NCLT and the NCLAT, many wonder whether the NCLT and the NCLAT have the requisite jurisdiction to pass orders or issue directions in relation to perjury that may have been committed in proceedings before the NCLT or the NCLAT, as the case may be.

5. The provisions of Sections 195(1)(b)(i) and 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC”) state that “courts” are entitled to hold a preliminary inquiry for offences committed, such as perjury, that are committed before it. However, do the NCLT and NCLAT fall within the ambit of these “courts”?

6. Section 195(3) CrPC appears to give direction towards an answer to this specific question. It states that the term “court” appearing in Section 195(1)(b)  CrPC means a Civil, Revenue or Criminal Court, and includes a tribunal constituted by or under a Central, Provincial or State Act if declared by that Act to be a Court. Therefore, it would only stand to reason that the NCLT and the NCLAT, being tribunals constituted under an Act of Parliament, would fall within the ambit a “court” appearing in Section 195(1)(b) CrPC. More importantly, Section 424(4) of the Companies Act, 2013 inter alia states that the NCLT and the NCLAT shall be deemed to be a civil court for the purposes of inter alia Section 195 CrPC. Furthermore, Section 424(4) of the Companies Act, 2013 also states that all proceedings before the NCLT and the NCLAT are “judicial proceedings” for the purposes of inter alia Section 193 of the  Penal Code, 1860, the charging provision for committing inter alia perjury in a “judicial proceeding”.

7. These provisions seem to give a clear answer to the first two issues inasmuch as the NCLT and NCLAT are “courts” within the ambit of Section 195 CrPC and therefore, in the event a litigant perjures himself before the NCLT or the NCLAT, there can be legal redressal for the same. Interestingly, Section 195(1)(b)(i) states that such a “court” i.e. the NCLT or the NCLAT cannot take cognizance of crimes such as perjury, which begs the question – Is there really a forum for redressal in the event a litigant perjures himself before the NCLT or the NCLAT? It is here where Sections 340(1) and 340(4)  CrPC fill in the gap and provide an answer.

8. The provisions of Section 340(1) r/w Section 340(4) CrPC state that a “court” i.e. the NCLT or the NCLAT may, upon application and after conducting a preliminary inquiry, make a complaint in writing to the Magistrate of the First Class concerned to take appropriate steps as such Magistrate would in the ordinary course of a criminal trial. A bare perusal of these provisions and a harmonious reading of the same would only suggest that the NCLT and the NCLAT do in fact have the requisite jurisdiction to entertain a matter of perjury that has been committed before it. However, these provisions also seem to make it clear the NCLT and NCLAT do not have the requisite jurisdiction to deliver judgment on these matters. They do, however, have the requisite jurisdiction to take up such a matter before the Magistrate of the First Class concerned, who has the requisite jurisdiction to hear the matter and deliver judgment.

9. In order to better appreciate the jurisprudence relating to the aforementioned provisions, a study of relevant judgments of our courts is necessary. For example, in Lalji Haridas State of Maharashtra [5] (“Laji Haridas”), a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India held that “judicial proceedings” per Section 193 of the Penal Code, 1860 would include “any proceeding in any court” per Section 195(1)(b) CrPC. The relevant portions of this judgment have been culled out and reproduced herein below:

“6… Section 195(1)(b) [CrPC] with which we are concerned, provides that no court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under the sections therein mentioned, when such offence is alleged to have been committed in, or in relation to, any proceeding in any court, except on the complaint in writing of such court or of some other court to which such court is subordinate; amongst the sections mentioned are Sections 193 and 228 IPC. The effect of this provision is that if an offence is alleged to have been committed either under Section 193 or Section 228 IPC, and it appears that the said offence was committed in relation to any proceeding in any Court, it is only if the said court, or the court to which it is subordinate, makes a complaint in that behalf that cognizance will be taken of the said complaint. A person cannot make a complaint in respect of the alleged commission of any of the offences specified in Section 195(1)(b) [ CrPC]; that is its plain effect.

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  1. It is somewhat remarkable that though Section 193 IPC, refers to a judicial proceeding, Section 195 CrPC refers to a proceeding in any court; it does not say a judicial proceeding in any court. Mr Desai contends that reading Section 193 IPC and Section 195(1)(b) CrPC together, it would not be unreasonable to hold that proceedings which are judicial under the former, should be taken to be proceedings in any court under the latter. The whole basis of providing for a higher sentence in regard to offences committed at any stage of a judicial proceeding appears to be that the legislature took the view that the said offences were more serious in character, and so, it distinguished the said offences from similar offences committed at any stage of other proceeding. The argument is that while providing for a higher sentence in respect of this more serious class of offences committed at any stage of judicial proceedings, the legislature intended that there should be a safeguard in respect of complaints as regards the said offences and that safeguard is provided by Section 195 (1)(b)  CrPC. In other words, an offence which is treated as more serious by the first paragraph of Section 193 IPC because it is an offence committed during the course of a judicial proceeding should be held to be an offence committed in any proceeding in any court for the purpose of Section 195(1)(b)  CrPC. On this argument, it is not necessary to consider whether the Income Tax Officer is a court or not, for, in substance, the contention is that as soon as Section 37(4) of the Act was enacted, the proceedings before an Income Tax Officer become judicial proceedings for the purpose of Section 193  IPC, and since they are classed under the first paragraph of the said section, they attract the protection of Section 195(1)(b)  CrPC. In our opinion, there is considerable force in this argument, and, on the whole, we are inclined to prefer the construction suggested by Mr Desai to that pressed before us by the learned Additional Solicitor General.

(emphasis supplied)

10. More recently, in Amit Vashistha Suresh [6] (“Amit Vashistha”), a Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India while relying on Lalji Haridas[7], held that when proceedings before the authority under the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 were specifically in the nature of a “judicial proceeding”[8], then such proceedings can be equated to mean a “court” per Section 195(1)(b) CrPC. The relevant portions of this judgment have been culled out and reproduced herein below:

“6. Section 2(i)  CrPC defined judicial proceeding to include any proceedings in the course of which evidence is or may be legally taken on oath. This power is indisputably statutorily vested in the authority holding proceedings under Section 7-A of the [Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions] Act [1952]. The legislature, in its wisdom, considering the seriousness of the adjudicatory process under the said provision, vested it with the nature of a judicial proceeding within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228 [of the  Penal Code, 1860]. If the proceedings under Section 7-A are deemed to be a judicial proceeding by fiction, it must be carried to its logical conclusion. Therefore, such a judicial proceeding can well be equated for that purpose with a court under Section 195(1)(b)(i) [ CrPC]‚ The High Court failed to consider the effect of the judicial nature of the proceeding, simply by reference to Section 195(1)(b)(i)  CrPC to hold that proceedings did not partake the nature of a court, and therefore, the complaint was not maintainable. A similar issue was considered in [Lalji Haridas][9]

(emphasis supplied)

Given this decision of the Supreme Court, one could easily draw a parallel between Section 7-A of the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 and Section 424(4) of the Companies Act, 2013 and perhaps conclude that if the authority holding “judicial proceedings” under Section 7-A of the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 is a “court” for the purposes of Section 195(1)(b)(i)  CrPC, then given the specific provisions of Section 424(4), the NCLT and the NCLAT also ought to be considered to a be “court” considering they too hold “judicial proceedings”.

11. Furthermore, in Baskar Mendon Sadashiv Narayan Shetty[10] (“Baskar Mendon”), a Single Judge Bench of the Bombay High Court, while relying on Lalji Haridas[11] and Amit Vashistha[12], held that proceedings before a Labour Court would mean proceedings before a “court” within the meaning of Section 195(1)(b)(i) CrPC. The relevant portions of this judgment have been culled out and reproduced hereinbelow:

“6… In other words, the ratio of the Supreme Court’s judgment [in Lalji Haridas[13]] was that every judicial proceeding under Section 193  IPC must be treated as proceeding in a court for the purpose of Section 195(1)(b)  [ CrPC], for that, as the Court held, would really carry out the intention of the legislature in enacting a provision such as Section 37(4) of the Income Tax Act.

*                           *                       *

  1. In [Amit Vashistha][14], the Supreme Court held proceedings under Section 7-A of the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, which inter alia provides that such proceedings shall be judicial proceedings for the purpose of Section 228 IPC, as proceedings before a court within the meaning of Section 195(1)(b)(i). The Court held that if the proceedings under Section 7-A are deemed to be judicial proceedings by fiction, such fiction must be carried to its logical conclusion, and the proceedings should be equated with proceedings before a court under Section 195(1)(b)(i) [CrPC] for the purpose of offence covered under Section 228 IPC, following the law stated in Lalji Haridas[15].

12. In summation, a harmonious reading of the aforementioned provisions of law and the judgments delivered in Lalji Haridas[16], Amit Vashistha[17] and Baskar Mendon[18] suggest the following:

  • that proceedings before the NCLT and the NCLAT are “judicial proceedings” for the purposes of Section 193 IPC i.e. the charging provision for the offence of perjury;
  • that the NCLT and the NCLAT fall within the ambit of a “court” vis-à-vis Sections 195(1)(b) and 340 CrPC;
  • that the NCLT or the NCLAT (as the case may be) being a “court” for the purposes of inter alia Section 340(1) CrPC may, upon application and after conducting a preliminary inquiry make a complaint to the Magistrate of the First Class having jurisdiction for the commission of the offence of perjury in the NCLT or the NCLAT (as the case may be). Subsequently, such Magistrate of the First Class shall proceed to act upon such a complaint as it would in a regular criminal trial.

13. It may also be noted that this debate is relevant also in relation to the commission of an offence under Section 192 IPC. This provision is not limited to the filing of a false document before a “judicial authority” but includes making any entry in any book or register, or making any electronic record, with the intention that it be used as evidence in some judicial proceeding.

14. While these legislations, read with the aforementioned judicial pronouncements, provide a clear procedural framework with regard to perjury in the NCLT and the NCLAT, the NCLT Rules and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal Rules, 2016 do not make it clear which officer of these Tribunals are specifically assigned to issue the “complaint” to the Magistrate of the First Class. However, considering how proceedings in India are carried out, it may well be the case that the Tribunals may direct the party alleging perjury to carry out service of such “complaint” and in the event the NCLT or NCLAT initiates suo motu proceedings pertaining to perjury, the Tribunal may direct a member of its registry to do the needful.

15. However, an ad hoc procedure may end up stifling the NCLT’s and NCLAT’s desire to proceed against persons who present false evidence or information. The judicial discipline of any institution, and the respect and authority it carries amongst the public at large, depends upon its ability to prevent abuse of its process. This would also include the power to punish for misconduct by a litigant during the proceedings. To this end, the President of the NCLT ought to exercise his administrative powers to nominate enough officers from each Bench to be empowered to initiate criminal action against perjurers. The interests of justice would be best served if the President also prepares a Standard Operating Procedure for the manner in which the NCLT would determine whether a litigant has committed an offence under the relevant provisions of IPC. Without this, each Bench may end up resorting to its own procedure which would certainly undermine the efficacy of these provisions as well as the faith in the judiciary.


*Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India, BBA LLB, Symbiosis Law School (a constituent of Symbiosis International University)

** Advocate, Bombay High Court, BA LLB, Symbiosis Law School (a constituent of Symbiosis International University)

[Authors’ Note: The views expressed herein are personal and independent. No third party has funded inter alia the issuance of this paper or the research conducted by the authors. The authors have based their views in this research paper on prevalent legislation, judicial opinions/interpretations pertaining to the same and their experience as practicing advocates in India.]

[1] See Rules 39 & 40, as well as Chapter XVIII of the National Company Law Tribunal Rules, 2016.

[2]Although it may be noted that the oath can be affirmed by either a Notary Public registered under the Notaries Act 1952, or by an Advocate, as per Rule 127 of the National Company Law Tribunal Rules, 2016

[3]While Section 10(2) of the Companies Act, 1956 allowed the Central Government to designate District Courts to hear matters arising out of the Companies Act, 1956, no steps were taken in furtherance of this mandate

[4] Madras Bar Association  v. Union of India,  (2015) 8 SCC 583

[5] (1964) 6 SCR 700 : AIR 1964 SC 1154 : (1964) 52 ITR 423 : (1964) 2 Cri LJ 249

[6] (2018) 15 SCC 240 

[7]Supra Note 5

[8]Akin to Section 424(4) of the Companies Act, 2013

[9]Supra Note 5

[10] 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 2106

[11]Supra Note 5

[12]Supra Note 6

[13]Supra Note 5

[14]Supra Note 6

[15]Supra Note 5

[16]Ibid

[17]Supra Note 6

[18]Supra Note 10

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Abhay Manohar Sapre and UU Lalit, JJ has held that Section 212 of the Companies Act, 2013 does not prescribe any period within which a report has to be submitted by Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) to the Central Government.

Lalit, J, writing for himself and Sapre, J listed down the ‘basic features’ that were considered while coming to this conclusion:

  1. Absolute transfer of investigation in terms of Section 212(2) of 2013 Act in favour of SFIO and upon such transfer all documents and records are required to be transferred to SFIO by every other Investigating Agency.
  2. For completion of investigation, sub-Section (12) of Section 212 does not contemplate any period.
  3. Under sub-Section (11) of Section 212 there could be interim reports as and when directed.

He said that in the face of these three salient features it cannot be said that the prescription of period within which a report is to be submitted by SFIO under sub-Section (3) of Section 212 is for completion of period of investigation and on the expiry of that period the mandate in favour of SFIO must come to an end. If it was to come to an end, the legislation would have contemplated it.

“In the absence of any clear stipulation, in our view, an interpretation that with the expiry of the period, the mandate in favour of SFIO must come to an end, will cause great violence to the scheme of legislation. If such interpretation is accepted, with the transfer of investigation in terms of sub Section (2) of Section 212 the original Investigating Agencies would be denuded of power to investigate and with the expiry of mandate SFIO would also be powerless which would lead to an incongruous situation that serious frauds would remain beyond investigation. That could never have been the idea.”

The Court hence concluded that the only construction which was, possible therefore, was that the prescription of period within which a report has to be submitted to the Central Government under sub-Section (3) of Section 212 is purely directory. It added:

“Even after the expiry of such stipulated period, the mandate in favour of the SFIO and the assignment of investigation under sub-Section (1) would not come to an end. The only logical end as contemplated is after completion of investigation when a final report or “investigation report” is submitted in terms of sub-Section (12) of Section 212.”

Sapre, J in his concurrent opinion said:

“If the submission of the learned counsel for the respondents (writ petitioners) that the compliance of sub-section (3) of Section 212 of the Act in relation to the submission of the report be held mandatory is accepted (which I am afraid, I cannot accept) in our view, the very purpose of enacting Section 212 of the Act would get defeated and will become nugatory.”

[Serious Fraud Investigation Office v. Rahul Modi, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 423, decided on 27.03.2019]