Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT): Justice Bansi Lal Bhat (Judicial), V.P. Singh (Technical) and Shreesha Merla  (Technical) held that 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’.

Background of the case:

The appellant- ‘State Bank of India’- is the ‘Financial Creditor’ has filed an appeal against the NCLT’s cognizance of the objection raised by the ‘Corporate Debtor’- ‘Metenere Limited’- regarding the proposed ‘Interim Resolution Professional’- Mr. Shailesh Verma whose employment under SBI for 39 years created an apprehension of bias, since Mr. Shailesh Verma was unlikely to act fairly and could not be expected to act as an Independent Umpire. The question that arose before the court was whether an ex-employee of one of the parties is qualified to act in the position of ‘Interim Resolution Professional’.

Decision

  • In the current appeal, the tribunal has laid emphasis on the current relationship between IRP and the Financial Creditor, where the former derives a pension from the latter. The Tribunal finds the IRP qualified to be an ‘Interim Resolution Professional’ in his personal capacity but the fact that the Appellant restricted its choice to propose him as IRP shows regard to past loyalty and the long services rendered by him. Further, the filing of instant appeal by ‘Financial Creditor’ shows their dismay at the IRP being asked to be substituted by the impugned order.
  • The relevant statutory provision which the bench looked into for qualification of the IRP is Regulation 3 (1) of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India,  Company Appeal (AT) (Insolvency) No. 76 of 2020 (Insolvency Resolution Process for Corporate Persons) Regulations, 2016, which reads as under: “(1) An insolvency professional shall be eligible to be appointed as a resolution professional for a corporate insolvency resolution process of a corporate debtor if he, and all partners and directors of the insolvency professional entity of which he is a partner or director, are independent of the corporate debtor.”
  • The likelihood of bias has been measured via the case of Ranjit Thakur v. Union of India, (1987) 4 SCC 611, in which the Supreme court said: “As to the tests of the likelihood of bias what is relevant is the reasonableness of the apprehension in that regard in the mind of the party. The proper approach for the judge is not to look at his own mind and ask himself, however, honestly, “Am I Biased?”; but to look at the mind of the party before him”. The committee finally upholds the impugned order, by saying the Appellant- ‘Financial Creditor’ should not have been aggrieved of the impugned order as the same did not cause any prejudice to it.

[SBI v. Metenere Ltd., Company Appeal (AT) (Insolvency) No. 76 of 2020, decided on 22-05-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT): A.I.S. Cheema, J. while deciding the present Company Appeal held that the dissenting Financial Creditor in COC cannot be allowed to scuttle CIRP process otherwise the provision permitting COC to take decisions with regard to subjects stated in Section 28(1) by given majority of 66 percent under Section 28(3) would be rendered nugatory.

In the present matter, the Resolution Professional had filed an MA, under Section 60(5) (c) read with Sections 25(1), 25(2) (c) and 28(1) (a) of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, before the Adjudicating Authority (National Company Law Tribunal, Division Bench, Chennai) to issue a certification approving Interim Finance and any costs related to it, as it forms part of the insolvency resolution process cost and has to be shared between all the members of the Committee of Creditors, in the proportion of their voting rights.

This application was allowed and the COC members were directed to release the Letter of Comfort.

Against developments as above, EARC filed an appeal claiming in view of the amendment to Section 30(4) of IBC read with Section 52(8) of IBC; Insolvency Resolution Process costs which include interim finance can only be recovered from secured creditors and not from unsecured creditors like Appellant. His appeal further raised ground of not being heard before passing the order thereby violating principles of natural justice.

The learned counsel for Resolution Professional submitted that the RP is responsible to keep the corporate debtor a going concern. It was further submitted that there was an urgency to seek orders of the Adjudicating Authority as the appellant was not ready to release the Letter of Comfort and the default would have led to render the corporate debtor ineligible to participate in the tender for power supply. 

The Tribunal opined that the appellant has the right to dissent in a COC meeting, but if the decision is still taken by the majority provided under the statute, all of COC members are duty-bound to abide by the decision.

Reliance was placed on the case of K. Sashidhar v. Indian Overseas Bank, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 257, where it was stated that the commercial wisdom of individual Financial Creditor is non-justiciable.

In view of the above, the appeal was dismissed and no orders as to costs were given; holding that the appellant had not made out a good case that if it was heard, impugned order could have been different. The tribunal found principles of natural justice to be satisfied but could not draw such an interpretation of Sub-Section (4) of Section 30 so as to require only Secured Financial Creditors to contribute towards interim finance and not the Unsecured Financial Creditors. [Edelweiss Asset Reconstruction Company Ltd. v. Sai Regency Power Corpn. (P) Ltd, 2019 SCC OnLine NCLAT 921, decided on 20-12-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, Surya Kant and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ has set aside the NCLAT order dated 04.07.2019 in the Essar Steel India insolvency case and has held,

“The NCLAT judgment which substitutes its wisdom for the commercial wisdom of the Committee of Creditors and which also directs the admission of a number of claims which was done by the resolution applicant, without prejudice to its right to appeal against the aforesaid judgment, must therefore be set aside.”

NCLAT had, in the impugned order, held that in a resolution plan there can be no difference between a financial creditor and an operational creditor in the matter of payment of dues, and that therefore, financial creditors and operational creditors deserve equal treatment under a resolution plan. Accordingly, the NCLAT has re-distributed the proceeds payable under the approved resolution plan as per the method of calculation adopted by it so that all financial creditors and operational creditors be paid 60.7% of their admitted claims.

The present appeals and writ petitions were an aftermath of this Court’s judgment dated 04.10.2018 in ArcelorMittal India Private Limited v. Satish Kumar Gupta, (2019) 2 SCC 1.

The Court also answered some important questions which have been elaborated as follows:

Role of Resolution Professional

Resolution professional is a person who is not only to manage the affairs of the corporate debtor as a going concern from the stage of admission of an application under Sections 7, 9 or 10 of the Code till a resolution plan is approved by the Adjudicating Authority, but is also a key person who is to appoint and convene meetings of the Committee of Creditors, so that they may decide upon resolution plans that are submitted in accordance with the detailed information given to resolution applicants by the resolution professional.

“Another very important function of the resolution professional is to collect, collate and finally admit claims of all creditors, which must then be examined for payment, in full or in part or not at all, by the resolution applicant and be finally negotiated and decided by the Committee of Creditors.”

Role of the prospective resolution applicant

The prospective resolution applicant has a right to receive complete information as to the corporate debtor, debts owed by it, and its activities as a going concern, prior to the admission of an application under section 7, 9 or 10 of the Code. For this purpose, it has a right to receive information contained in the information memorandum as well as the evaluation matrix mentioned in Regulation 36-B.

Role of Committee of Creditors

Since it is the commercial wisdom of the Committee of Creditors that is to decide on whether or not to rehabilitate the corporate debtor by means of acceptance of a particular resolution plan, the provisions of the Code and the Regulations outline in detail the importance of setting up of such Committee, and leaving decisions to be made by the requisite majority of the members of the aforesaid Committee in its discretion.

“The Committee of Creditors does not act in any fiduciary capacity to any group of creditors. On the contrary, it is to take a business decision based upon ground realities by a majority, which then binds all stakeholders, including dissentient creditors.”

The decisions relating to management of the corporate debtor cannot be taken without the prior approval of at least 66% of the votes of the Committee of Creditors.

Constitution of a sub-committee by the Committee of Creditors

Sub-committees cannot be constituted for:

  • Exercising of the Committee of Creditors’ powers on questions which have a vital bearing on the running of the business of the corporate debtor.
  • approving a resolution plan.

However, sub-committees can be appointed for the purpose of negotiating with resolution applicants, or for the purpose of performing other ministerial or administrative acts, provided such acts are in the ultimate analysis approved and ratified by the Committee of Creditors.

Jurisdiction of the Adjudicating Authority and the Appellate Tribunal

The Adjudicating Authority generally cannot interfere on merits with the commercial decision taken by the Committee of Creditors. However, the limited judicial review available is to see that the Committee of Creditors has taken into account the fact that the corporate debtor needs to keep going as a going concern during the insolvency resolution process; that it needs to maximise the value of its assets; and that the interests of all stakeholders including operational creditors has been taken care of.

If the Adjudicating Authority finds, on a given set of facts, that the aforesaid parameters have not been kept in view, it may send a resolution plan back to the Committee of Creditors to re-submit such plan after satisfying the aforesaid parameters. The reasons given by the Committee of Creditors while approving a resolution plan may thus be looked at by the Adjudicating Authority only from this point of view, and once it is satisfied that the Committee of Creditors has paid attention to these key features, it must then pass the resolution plan, other things being equal.

Secured and unsecured creditors; the equality principle

Financial creditors are in the business of lending money who are capital providers for companies, who in turn are able to purchase assets and provide a working capital to enable such companies to run their business operation. Whereas operational creditors are beneficiaries of amounts lent by financial creditors which are then used as working capital, and often get paid for goods and services provided by them to the corporate debtor, out of such working capital. Hence,

“If an “equality for all” approach recognising the rights of different classes of creditors as part of an insolvency resolution process is adopted, secured financial creditors will, in many cases, be incentivised to vote for liquidation rather than resolution, as they would have better rights if the corporate debtor was to be liquidated rather than a resolution plan being approved.”

This would defeat the entire objective of the Code which is to first ensure that resolution of distressed assets takes place and only if the same is not possible should liquidation follow.

Constitutional validity of Sections 4 and 6 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Act, 2019

Section 4

So far as Section 4 is concerned, it is clear that the original timelines under Section 12 of the Code in which a CIRP must be completed have now been extended to 330 days, which is 60 days more than 180 plus 90 days. The proviso to Section 12 reads:

“the corporate insolvency resolution process shall mandatorily be completed within a period of three hundred and thirty days from the insolvency commencement date, including any extension of the period of corporate insolvency resolution process granted under this section and the time taken in legal proceedings in relation to such resolution process of the corporate debtor.”

The Court, hence, while leaving the provision otherwise intact, struck down the word “mandatorily” as being manifestly arbitrary under Article 14 of the Constitution of India and as being an excessive and unreasonable restriction on the litigant’s right to carry on business under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. The effect of this declaration is that ordinarily the time taken in relation to the corporate resolution process of the corporate debtor must be completed within the outer limit of 330 days from the insolvency commencement date, including extensions and the time taken in legal proceedings.

It was, however, explained that on the facts of a given case, if it can be shown to the Adjudicating Authority and/or Appellate Tribunal under the Code that only a short period is left for completion of the insolvency resolution process beyond 330 days, and that it would be in the interest of all stakeholders that the corporate debtor be put back on its feet instead of being sent into liquidation and that the time taken in legal proceedings is largely due to factors owing to which the fault cannot be ascribed to the litigants before the Adjudicating Authority and/or Appellate Tribunal, the delay or a large part thereof being attributable to the tardy process of the Adjudicating Authority and/or the Appellate Tribunal itself, it may be open in such cases for the Adjudicating Authority and/or Appellate Tribunal to extend time beyond 330 days.

Section 6

Section 30(2)(b) of the Code as substituted by Section 6 of the Amending Act is in fact a beneficial provision in favour of operational creditors and dissentient financial creditors as they are now to be paid a certain minimum amount, the minimum in the case of operational creditors being the higher of the two figures calculated under sub-clauses (i) and (ii) of clause (b), and the minimum in the case of dissentient financial creditor being a minimum amount that was not earlier payable. As a matter of fact, pre-amendment, secured financial creditors may cramdown unsecured financial creditors who are dissentient, the majority vote of 66% voting to give them nothing or next to nothing for their dues. In the earlier regime it may have been possible to have done this but after the amendment such financial creditors are now to be paid the minimum amount mentioned in sub-section (2).

It was also noticed that the discretion given to the Committee of Creditors by the word “may” again makes it clear that this is only a guideline which is set out by this sub-section which may be applied by the Committee of Creditors in arriving at a business decision as to acceptance or rejection of a resolution plan.

[Committee of Creditors of Essar Steel India Limited v. Satish Kumar Gupta, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1478, decided on 15.11.2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT): Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Chairperson dismissed an appeal against the order of National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai filed by Navneet Kumar Gupta, Resolution Professional of Monnet Power Co. Ltd.

In the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process against Monnet Power (corporate debtor), the respondent Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (operational creditor) filed an application before the Resolution Professional to admit its entire claim of Rs 977,49,97,545 along with interest. On considering the same, the Resolution Professional did not accept part of the claim. NCLT, by the impugned order, held that the Resolution Professional wrongly disallowed the substantial claim in its entirety and directed him to re-examine the claim on basis of the accounts and evidence of BHEL. Aggrieved thereby, the Resolution Professional preferred the present appeal.

The only question which arose for consideration in this appeal was “whether the Resolution Professional had jurisdiction to reject the claim of BHEL in its entirety, without going into evidence?”

The Appellate Tribunal relied heavily on Swiss Ribbons (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 73 wherein this issue fell for consideration before the Supreme Court. It was held in that case that a Resolution Professional had no adjudicatory powers. Holding the present case being covered by Swiss Ribbons, the High Court declined to interfere with the impugned order. The Resolution Professional was directed to act in accordance with the directions NCLT. [Navneet Kumar Gupta v. BHEL, 2019 SCC OnLine NCLAT 114, decided on 26-02-2019]