|Chief Justice Kabir
New Delhi, Feb. 25: The Sahara Group’s last-gasp attempt to seek more time to refund around Rs 20,000 crore collapsed in the Supreme Court today but not before an unusual exchange of words.
When a bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justices Anil Dave and Vikramjit Sen was about to take up the Sahara plea, M.N. Krishnamani, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, stood up.
Krishnamani questioned the moral propriety of the bench to hear the matter when it was being dealt with by another bench. The other bench had already ruled against Sahara and is now hearing a contempt petition on why the money had not been refunded. Market regulator Sebi had initially ordered the refund on the charge that rules were flouted while issuing instruments against the money raised.
“In keeping with the traditions and conventions of this court, it would not be proper for this bench to hear the matter when it is being heard by another bench. I am not representing any party, but speaking as the president of the Bar,” Krishnamani said.
“Already, there are a lot of rumours and things are being reported in the media,” he told the bench.
Chief Justice Kabir asked: “What have you come to know about the case? Tell us one word about the case, then we will hear you.”
Krishnamani said it was immaterial whether he knew anything about the case or not but it was not proper for the bench to hear the issue when another bench headed by Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan had already directed Sahara to refund the money.
The senior counsel said he was only trying to “caution” the bench from hearing the matter in keeping with the traditions of the court.
The Chief Justice then asked: “Why do you want to caution us? We don’t need your cautionÖ. How do you know what is going to happen in the case? If something happens then you say. Kindly take your seat.”
However, the bench dismissed the Sahara plea for a fresh extension. The group could not get any further relief over and above that granted on December 5 by the bench headed by Chief Justice Kabir. The company was then directed to refund the money in two instalments by February 2013.
Today, when senior counsel Ram Jethmalani appeared for the company and sought extension of time, the bench reminded him of the order passed on December 5.
Recalling its order, the bench said: “You have no business to come here again.”
When Jethmalani tried to persuade the court to change its order, the bench said: “This is a very, very unfortunate application, which should have been dismissed with costs.”
A bench of Justices Radhakrishnan and J.S. Khehar had on February 6 issued contempt notices to two Sahara Group companies for failing to refund an estimated Rs 20,000 crore to investors. The bench had also pulled up Sebi for its reluctance to initiate attachment proceedings.
On December 5, the bench headed by Chief Justice Kabir had asked the group to make a payment of Rs 10,000 crore to Sebi within the first week of January 2013 and the balance during the first week of February. The group has so far made a payment of around Rs 5,120 crore.
Although the group appears to have exhausted the last option to avert attachment, actual seizure will depend on the ability of Sebi to track down the related assets. Industry sources feel Sebi is ill-equipped to pursue such a course and the watchdog will need the help of the RBI.