The Supreme Court, on September 11, 2017, rejected Sahara chief Subrata Roy’s plea, seeking two more months to deposit Rs 966.80 crores of the remaining Rs 1,500 crores, saying he was trying to treat the apex court as ‘a laboratory’, to play with the law. The apex court directed the official liquidator to go ahead with the scheduled auction of the group’s Aamby Valley property in Maharashtra, valued at Rs 37,392 crores, as it rejected Roy’s plea to extend the time till November 11, 2017.
The directions came, after Roy said he had deposited Rs 533.20 crores in the SEBI-Sahara account and wanted to pay the remaining Rs 966.80 crores, through cheques dated November 11, 2017. The top court said that barring ‘hyperbolic arguments and rhetoric statements’ by the Sahara chief, the amount in its entirety has not yet been paid.
The court had, on July 25, 2017, asked the embattled Sahara chief to deposit Rs 1,500 crores in the SEBI-Sahara account by September 7m, 2017 and said it may only then deliberate upon his plea seeking 18 months more, for making the full repayment of the outstanding amount to be refunded to the investors. The apex court, in the latest hearing, said that entertaining post-dated cheques dated November 11, would ‘tantamount to travesty of justice’ and ‘extending unwarranted sympathy to a person who is indubitably an abuser of the process of law’. A bench of chief justice Dipak Misra said, “He, who thinks or for that matter harbours the notion that he can play with law, is under the wrong impression.”
The bench, also comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and AK Sikri said, “We are constrained to state that the respondent-contemnor in his own way, has treated this court as a laboratory and has made a maladroit effort to play, possibly thinking that he can survive on the ventilator as long as he can. He would have been well advised that a person who goes on a ventilator may not survive for long and in any case, a time would come, when he has to be comatosed. Here comatose takes place, as regards the ambitious effort made by the respondent-contemnor.”
It directed that the auction process of the Aamby Valley should be held on October 10-11 at Mumbai, as per the direction and schedule approved by the court. The top court also asked the official liquidator to carry out the auction as per procedure and during the auction, the registrar general of the Bombay High Court, designated as a Supreme Court appointee, shall remain personally present, to oversee the auction at the venue.
It said that all interim orders passed by the apex court shall remain in force. The bench said the contempt proceedings in the case has had a chequered history and it was due to the ‘ingenious brainchild’ of the Sahara chief. “Many an order came to be passed in the contempt proceedings, due to the recalcitrant proclivity of the respondent-contemnor, who possibly has harboured an adroit idea that he can test the patience of this court. It has been said long back that the patience itself has its own patience and is not without limitations. The purpose of saying so, relates to liberty granted on number of occasions to the respondent-contemnor, Subrata Roy, to pay the amount by depositing the same in the SEBI-Sahara account,” the bench said.
It also rejected senior advocate Kapil Sibal’s submission that the contemnor has paid the substantial amount of Rs 16,000 crores till now and only about Rs 8,651 crores remained to be paid and it should not be held against him. During the hearing, Sibal said that Roy had made tremendous efforts, to comply with the order of the court and if the prayer made by him is not accepted, the principle of reasonableness would be defeated.
Senior advocate Arvind P Datar and advocate Pratap Venugopal, appearing for SEBI, said the auction has to proceed and the ‘drama of procrastination’ must stop. Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appointed as amicus curiae in the case, supported the argument of Datar and said the concept of ‘enough is enough’ should be adopted by the court.
On August 10, 2017, the apex court had rejected the Sahara chief’s plea, to put on hold the auction process of the group’s Aamby Valley project. It had said that the auction process will proceed as per schedule and if Rs 1,500 crores is paid by Roy in the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)-Sahara refund account by September 7, 2017, then, it may pass an appropriate order. The Sahara Group had earlier sought 18 months’ time, to repay around Rs 9,000 crores balance amount of the principal amount of Rs 24,000 crores.
Roy, who has spent almost two years in jail, has been on parole since May 6, 2016. The parole was granted the first time, to enable him to attend the funeral of his mother. It has been extended since then. Besides Roy, two other directors – Ravi Shankar Dubey and Ashok Roy Choudhary – were arrested for the failure of the group’s two companies – Sahara India Real Estate Corporation (SIRECL) and Sahara Housing Investment Corp Ltd (SHICL) – to comply with the court’s August 31, 2012 order, to return Rs 24,000 crores to their investors.