New Delhi, March 4: A squirt of ink in the face. A rebuff to his plea for “love”. Up to a week in jail without a bed or home food.
This was today the lot of Sahara chief Subrata Roy, whom the Supreme Court remanded in judicial custody till March 11, describing as a “dilatory tactic” his suggested method for carrying out an 18-month-old court order to refund Rs 20,000 crore to investors.
“With folded hands, I request you that I may be allowed to sell my properties and pay the investors,” Roy said, claiming his 12 lakh employees had contributed from their personal savings towards the refund. “Folded hands” has been a preferred phrase of Roy since Friday morning when his arrest appeared unavoidable.
“See, it is all a big story. If you know it, sir, you will love us,” he told the bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and J.S. Khehar today, drawing giggles in a packed courtroom.
Justice Radhakrishnan’s retort brought the house down: “We’ll love you, if you pay all the money.”
But the court held out a ray of hope for Roy, remanded with group directors Ravi Shankar Dubey and Ashok Roy Choudhary in the contempt case. The next hearing can be advanced — with the attendant possibility of bail — if Sahara can suggest a better way of complying with the court’s order.
Partly to this end, the court spared another group director, Vandana Bhargava, from jail, adding that the relief would allow her to work out an “acceptable” alternative in consultation with the remanded trio.
Roy, arrested in Lucknow on Friday on the strength of an apex court warrant, had been driven to Delhi after three days at an Uttar Pradesh forest guesthouse but was waylaid before he could enter the courtroom.
As he got off a car in the court’s parking lot around 1pm, wearing his trademark waistcoat, dark glasses and smile, a man of medium build broke through the security ring and emptied a bottle of ink on his face.
Some of the lawyers accompanying Roy from Uttar Pradesh pounced on attacker Manoj Sharma, whose motive remained unclear, and beat him up.
As he was whisked away by the police, Sharma was heard yelling: “Chor hai, Sahara toh chor hai. Usey aisi hi karna hai (They are thieves; this is what should be done to them).”
Roy was led to a washroom to clean his face. As he entered the courtroom around 1.30, the industrialist who hobnobbed with Bollywood stars took out a pocket comb and rearranged his hair. He joked with his lawyers and occasionally waved at them.
As the two-hour hearing began at 2pm, Roy looked composed. He apologised to the bench saying he had meant no disrespect. “Punish me if I don’t comply with your orders,” he said.
His battery of lawyers —Ram Jethmalani, A. Sundaram, Rajeev Dhawan and Ravi Shankar Prasad — urged the court to accept the company’s offer to sell its assets.
The judges were unimpressed, saying the accused had been given “sufficient opportunities” to comply with its earlier orders over the past year and a half, but they had “adopted various dilatory tactics”.
The court had on August 31, 2012, declared two investment schemes run by Sahara as illegal and ordered the deposits be returned with interest through stock market regulator Sebi. Sahara has since then been dodging the investors, Sebi says.
“Non-compliance of the orders passed by this court shakes the very foundation of our judicial system and undermines the rule of law,” the bench said. “This is essential to maintain faith and confidence of the people… in the judiciary.”
The court said that documents and affidavits produced by the accused “cast serious doubts about the existence of the so-called investors” and thus appeared to “falsify their refund theory”.
“All the fact-finding authorities have opined that the majority of the investors do not exist,” it said.
“Preservation of market integrity is extremely important for economic growth of this country and for national interest. Maintaining investors’ confidence requires market integrity and control of market abuse. Market abuse is a serious financial crime, which undermines the very financial structure of this country and will make imbalance in wealth between haves and have-nots.”
Roy received a snub when he told the court: “We will pay you the money.”
“Mr Roy, don’t tell us ‘we will pay you the money’. We have nothing to do… it is between you and the investors. You must pay,” Justice Khehar said.
Defence counsel immediately clarified that what Roy had meant was that he would pay the investors.
When the court ordered the remand, the lawyers looked stunned. One of them began to console Roy who looked shaken.
Jethmalani rose to protest, saying: “My right under Article 21 (right to life and liberty) is being violated. I should be heard before any order is passed against me.”
Dhawan pleaded that the remand be held in abeyance for at least a week, giving Sahara time to come out with an alternative proposal. But the judges walked away.
As he was being taken to jail, Roy told reporters: “This is the best award the country has given to me.”