Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-Judge Bench of Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari, JJ., set aside the NCLAT’s Order with regard to the appointment of Resolution Professional.

Question for Consideration

Whether an ex-employee of the ‘Financial Creditor’ having rendered services in the past, should not be permitted to act as ‘Interim Resolution Professional’ at the instance of such ‘Financial Creditor’, regard being had to the nature of duties to be performed by the ‘Interim Resolution Professional’ and the ‘Resolution Professional’?

NCLT’s position

State Bank of India (Financial Creditor) had filed an application under Section 7 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 with regard to initiation of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process before the National Company Law Tribunal, Delhi.

NCLT on noting the objection regarding the proposed ‘Interim Resolution Professional’ — Shailesh Verma directed the Financial Creditor to perform it’s statutorily mandatory obligation by substituting the name of the ‘Resolution Professional’ to act as an ‘Interim Resolution Professional’ in place of Shailesh Verma as it was of the view that Shailesh Verma having worked with the State Bank of India for 39 years before his retirement in 2016, there was an apprehension of bias and was unlikely to act fairly and could not be expected to act as an Independent Umpire.

NCLAT’s position

Aggrieved with the above position, Financial Creditor preferred the appeal before NCLAT on the ground that the proposed ‘Interim Resolution Professional’ Shailesh Verma fulfils the requirement for appointment as ‘Interim Resolution Professional’/ ‘Resolution Professional’ under the ‘I&B Code’ and admittedly bears no disqualification.

NCLAT opined that the apprehension of bias expressed by the ‘Corporate Debtor’ qua the appointment of Shailesh Verma as proposed ‘Interim Resolution Professional’ at the instance of the Appellant — ‘Financial Creditor’ cannot be dismissed offhand and the Adjudicating Authority was perfectly justified in seeking his substitution.


Supreme Court’s position

In the above background, Bench observed at the outset that, NCLAT’s approach was not correct that merely Resolution Professional who remained in the service of SBI and is getting pension was disentitled to be Resolution Professional.

Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta as well as Senior Counsel, Krishnan Venugopal agreed for the appointment of new Resolution Professional by NCLT.

Hence, the Bench held that new Resolution Professional be appointed by the NCLT in accordance with the provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.

While concluding the order, Court stated that the change of Resolution Professional shall not reflect adversely upon the integrity of Resolution Professional concerned, who has been replaced.

Since the impugned order does not reflect the correct approach, the same shall not be treated as a precedent.[State Bank of India v. Metenere,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 837, decided on 19-08-2020]

Also Read:

[SC ALERT] NCLAT’s decoder on appointment of a person as Resolution Professional: Will an ex-employee of Financial Creditor be eligible for appointment? Read on

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT): The Bench of Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Chairperson and Justice Bansi Lal Bhat, Member (Judicial) directed the National Company Law Tribunal (Ahmedabad) to pass appropriate order on application filed by Financial Creditor under Section 7 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 without adjourning the matter further.

The present appeal was preferred by Corporate Debtor against an order of NCLT whereby it had adjourned the matter giving time to Financial Creditor for submitting clarifications/removal of defects. Pratik Tripathi, Company Secretary appearing for Corporate Debtor submitted that the matter was pending for one year and NCLT had not passed any order either admitting or rejecting the application filed under Section 7.

The Appellate Tribunal noted that the matter in issue was already settled in Innoventive Industries Ltd. v. ICICI Bank, (2018) 1 SCC 407 which made clear that NCLT is not required to decide mismatch of ‘debt’ and it cannot be a ground reject the claim if the amount due is more than Rs 1 lakh and there is a ‘default’. The Appellate Tribunal did not see any reason as to why NCLT kept adjourning the case which was pending for admission since 2017. It was categorically observed,

“The Insolvency Code provides a specific time frame to complete the process and the Adjudicating Authority should take it seriously and cannot adjourn the matter on one or the other ground…”

In such view of the matter, the appeal was disposed of by directing NCLT decide the pending application on merits on the next date without adjourning the matter. [Dhar Textile Mills Ltd. v. Asset Reconstruction Co. (India) Ltd., 2019 SCC OnLine NCLAT 3, Order dated 07-01-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A Bench comprising of R.F. Nariman and M.R. Shah, JJ. allowed an appeal filed against the order of Rajasthan High Court whereby it refused to transfer winding up proceedings pending before it to National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).

The account of Jaipur Metals and Electrical Ltd. had become a non-performing asset. A reference was made to Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) under the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act, 1985 (SIC Act), which forwarded opinion to the High Court that company ought to be wound up. Ultimately, the High Court appointed official liquidator and the winding up process has begun. Meanwhile, Alchemist Asset Reconstruction Co. (financial Creditor) filed an application under Section 7 of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 before NCLT for initiation of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process which was admitted. Thereafter, the High Court passed the order impugned where it refused to transfer winding up proceedings pending before it and set aside NCLT’s order. Aggrieved thereby, the appellants preferred instant appeal.

The Supreme Court perused in detail various Sections of the Companies Act, 2013 as well as I&B Code. Focus was laid on Section 434 of Companies Act, 2013 which deals with “transfer of certain pending proceedings”. Section 238 I&B Code, Rules 5 & 6 of Companies (Transfer of Pending Proceedings) Rules, 2016 were considered in detail. The Court explained, “all proceedings under Section 20 of the SIC Act 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 17-08-2018 (when Section 434, Companies Act was amended).  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.” Furthermore, the proceedings under Section 7, I&B Code application were independent which had nothing to do with the transfer of winding up proceedings. It was open to Alchemist at any time before winding up order was passed to apply under Section 7 of the Code. It was also clarified that if there is any inconsistency between Section 434, Companies Act and provisions of the Code, the latter must prevail. In such view of the matter, it was held that NCLT was correct in admitting the application. The order of the High Court was set aside and NCLT proceedings were directed to continue from the stage where they had been left off. The appeal was allowed.[ Jaipur Metal & Electricals Employee Organization v. Jaipur Metals & Electricals Ltd.,2018 SCC OnLine SC 2801, decided on 12-12-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT): A two-member bench comprising of Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Chairperson and Justice Bansi Lal Bhat, Member (Judicial)  dismissed an appeal filed against the order of the National Company Law Tribunal, Chennai whereby the application filed by the Financial Creditor under Section 7 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 was admitted.

Firstly, the appellant (shareholder of the Corporate Debtor) submitted that the respondent is not a Financial Creditor as defined in Section 5(7) read with Section 5(8). However, on facts, the Appellate Tribunal rejected the submission. It was found that the Rajkumar Impex Ghana Ltd. (subsidiary of the Corporate Debtor) had applied for a loan which was provided by Stanbic Bank Ghana Ltd. The Corporate Debtor executed guarantee in favour of the Bank for the said loan. As such, the Bank became a Financial Creditor. Secondly, the admission of application filed by the respondent under Section 7 for initiation of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process was assailed. It was challenged on the ground that NCLT while admitting the application, did not record reasons in writing.

The Appellate Tribunal rejected the second submission filed by the appellant as well. It observed that application under Section 7 is not a recovery proceeding or proceeding for determining of a claim on merit that can be decided only by a court of competent jurisdiction. An application under Sections 7, 9 or 10 of the Code not being a money claim or suit and not being an adversarial litigation, NCLT is not required to write a detailed decision as to which are the evidence relied upon for its satisfaction. NCLT is only required to be satisfied that there is a debt and default had occurred. In the present case, NCLT had held that a prima facie case was made out by the applicant. As such, NCLT expressed its satisfaction about existence of debt and default. Thus, the appeal was dismissed holding it to be sans merit. [V.R. Hemantraj v. Stanbic Bank Ghana Ltd.,2018 SCC OnLine NCLAT 451, dated 29-08-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal:  A two-member bench comprising of S.J. Mukhopadhaya and Bansi Lal Bhat, J., dismissed a company appeal filed against the order of the National Company Law Tribunal which dismissed the appellant’s application filed under Section 7 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016, for initiation of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process.

The appellant (operational creditor) cited a long list of cases to substantiate its application. The question before the Tribunal was whether an application under Section 7 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 was maintainable even when the winding up proceedings against the corporate debtor had already been initiated. It was an admitted fact that the Bombay High Court had already ordered the winding of the corporate debtor. Referring to various judgments, the Tribunal, held that an application for initiation of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process was not maintainable. The Tribunal observed that winding up order is the second stage and corporate insolvency resolution process is the first. Therefore, the order for initiation of the first stage cannot be passed after order directing the compliance of the second stage had already been issued. As a result, the Tribunal dismissed the company appeal preferred by the appellant. [Indiabulls Housing Finance Ltd. v. Sree Ram Urban Infrastructure Ltd., 2018 SCC OnLine NCLAT 282, order dated 30-05-2018]

Amendments to existing lawsLegislation Updates

The President gave his assent on 06-06-2018, to promulgate the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018.

The Ordinance provides significant relief to home buyers by recognizing their status as financial creditors. This would give them due representation in the Committee of Creditors and make them an integral part of the decision making process. It will also enable home buyers to invoke Section 7 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), 2016 against errant developers. Another major beneficiary would be Micro, Small and Medium Sector Enterprises (MSME), which form the backbone of the Indian economy as the biggest employer, next only to the agriculture sector. Recognizing the importance of MSME Sector in terms of employment generation and economic growth, the Ordinance empowers the Government to provide them with a special dispensation under the Code. The immediate benefit it provides is that, it does not disqualify the promoter to bid for his enterprise undergoing Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP) provided he is not a willful defaulter and does not attract other disqualifications not related to default. It also empowers the Central Government to allow further exemptions or modifications with respect to the MSME sector, if required, in public interest.

In order to protect the sanctity of the CIRP, the Ordinance lays down a strict procedure if an applicant wants to withdraw a case after its admission under IBC 2016.  Henceforth, such withdrawal would be permissible only with the approval of the Committee of Creditors with 90 percent of the voting share.  Furthermore, such withdrawal will only be permissible before publication of notice inviting Expressions of Interest (EoI).  In other words, there can be no withdrawal once the commercial process of EoIs and bids commences. Separately, the Regulations will bring in further clarity by laying down mandatory timelines, processes and procedures for corporate insolvency resolution process.  Some of the specific issues that would be addressed include non-entertainment of late bids, no negotiation with the late bidders and a well laid down procedure for maximizing value  of assets.

With a view to encouraging resolution as opposed to liquidation, the voting threshold has been brought down to 66 percent from 75 % for all major decisions such as approval of resolution plan, extension of CIRP period, etc.  Further, in order to facilitate the corporate debtor to continue as a going concern during the CIRP, the voting threshold for routine decisions has been reduced to 51 %.

The Ordinance also provides for a mechanism to allow participation of security holders, deposit holders and all other classes of financial creditors that exceed a certain number, in meetings of the Committee of Creditors, through the authorized representation.

The existing Section 29 (A) of the IBC, 2016 has also been fine-tuned to exempt pure play financial entities from being disqualified on account of NPA.  Similarly, a resolution application holding an NPA by virtue of acquiring  it  in the past under the IBC, 2016, has been provided with a three-year cooling-off period, from the date of such acquisition.  In other words, such NPA shall not disqualify the resolution application during the currency of the three-year grace period.

Taking into account the wide range of disqualifications contained in Section 29 (A) of the Code, the Ordinance provides that the Resolution Applicant shall submit an affidavit certifying its eligibility to bid.  This places the primary onus on the resolution applicant to certify its eligibility.

The Ordinance provides for a minimum one-year grace period for the successful resolution applicant to fulfill various statutory obligations required under different laws.  This would go a long way in enabling the new management to successfully implement the resolution plan.

The other changes brought about by the Ordinance include non-applicability of moratorium period to enforcement of guarantee; introducing the requirement of special resolution for corporate debtors  to themselves trigger insolvency resolution under the Code; liberalizing terms and conditions of interim finance to facilitate financing of corporate debtor during CIRP period; and giving the IBBI a specific development role along with  powers to levy fee in respect of services rendered.

The above mentioned changes are expected to further strengthen the Insolvency Resolution Framework in the country and produce better outcomes in terms ofresolution as opposed to liquidation, time taken, cost incurred and recovery rate.

[Press Release no. 1534497]

Ministry of Corporate Affairs

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal: Order of the Adjudicating Authority rejecting the application filed by the petitioners under Section 7 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016, was set aside by a two-member bench comprising of S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Chairperson and Bansi Lal Bhat, Judicial Member.

The petitioners were financial creditors of the respondent company. They filed an application under Section 7 for initiating the insolvency resolution process. However, such an application was rejected by the Adjudicating Authority observing that the application did not disclose ‘dates of default’. The petitioners were in appeal against the said order of the Adjudicating Authority.

The NCLAT after considering the record held that the impugned order was not sustainable. The application was rejected on technical grounds. As stated by the petitioners, there was only a typographical defect as to the dates mentioned in the application, which could have easily been corrected. The Tribunal held that before rejecting petitioners’ application, the Authority must give opportunity to the applicants to rectify defect. In absence of such an opportunity, the impugned order was set aside. Appeal was accordingly disposed of. [Satyaprakash Aggarwal v. Vistar Metal Industries (P) Ltd., 2018 SCC OnLine NCLAT 264, dated 21-05-2018]