NCLAT settles the crucial Issue: Speedy Liquidation Versus Endless Resolution

In a significant ruling in Kridhan Infrastructure Private Limited vs. Venkatesan Sankaranaryan & Another[1], NCLAT has held that timely liquidation is to be preferred over endless resolution. It has also held that unless the liquidation order is shown to contain material irregularity or fraud, liquidation order cannot be set aside using inherent powersin the light of specific provisions under section 61(4) of the Code. It has also categorically ruled that stakeholders’ consultation committee is different from committee of creditors and the decision of stakeholders’ consultation committee is not binding on the liquidator.

Briefly, in this case, upon failure of implementation of the resolution plan by the Resolution Applicant, NCLT directed liquidation of the corporate debtor as proposed by the committee of creditors. The Resolution Applicant aggrieved with this order filed an appeal before NCLAT alleging that it was not provided with an opportunity of being heard and that the order of NCLT ordering liquidation be set aside preferring ‘Resolution’ over ‘Liquidation’. Resolution Applicant undertook to implement the plan.

Here is the lowdown of the issues decided by NCLAT:

Speed is the Essence

NCLAT noted that prime reason behind enactment of IBC is time bound process. It specifically noted that “if an Adjudicating Authority extends the Insolvency Resolution Process beyond the timeline mentioned u/s 12(3) of the code, the same will be in negation of the underlying policy behind the court of ensuring timely resolution of Company Insolvency”.  NCLAT held that a “Timely Liquidation is preferred over endless Resolution process.”. Making it clear that time period mentioned in section 12 is mandatory and cannot be extended. It held that “If time specified by statute is changed, then it will give room for wider complications/implications, in the considered opinion of this Tribunal.”

Specifically noting that Resolution Applicant failed to adhere to the timelines for equity infusion as per the approved plan, NCLAT held that “the speed specified in the Code cannot be diluted as there is likelihood of adversely affecting the interests of both sides. If the same is delayed, maximization of value of assets of the ‘Corporate Debtor’ will weaken the realisation of potential creditors.”

Use of Inherent Power to set aside order of liquidation

On use of inherent powers under Rule 11 to set aside the order of liquidation as prayed by the Resolution Applicant, NCLAT noted that “it is well settled principle in Law that an ‘inherent power’ cannot be resorted to when there are specific provisions in Law to deal with the situations relying on the judgment of Apex Court in ‘Durgesh Sharma’ V. ‘Jayshree’ reported in Air 2009 Supreme Court at page 285. NCLAT refused to invoke jurisdiction under Rule 11 for setting aside order of liquidation.

Eligibility under Section 29A due to later development

NCLAT noted the strong objection of the Liquidator on the ground of huge default by the Resolution Applicant through its subsidiaries outside India. NCLAT held that provisions of Sections 29A(f) and (j) get attracted.

Stakeholders Consultation Committee recommendations are not binding on Liquidator

NCLAT upheld the argument on behalf of the Liquidator that “in so far as the ‘stakeholders’ consultation committee under the Liquidation process, unlike ‘Committee of Creditors’ under ‘Resolution process’ they do not have any power to determine and even their consultation is not binding on the liquidator.”

Conclusion

The judgment is unique as it deviates the beaten path of ‘maximization of value’ which is oft quoted to persuade NCLAT and NCLAT benches. The phrase has become a monologue to justify any attempt to resolve insolvency ignoring the crucial part of preamble which speaks of ‘time bound manner’.  This judgment notes the importance of timelines under the Code and sets an example that no matter what, timely liquidation is preferable over repeated attempts to resolution. This judgment is a trend setter in the era of IBC 2.0 and the NCLT benches are now armed to counter the over used phrase maximization of value.


[1] Company Appeal (AT) (Insolvency) No. 202 of 2020

Who Wins – Equitable Consideration or Commercial Wisdom of CoC?

Abstract

This piece deals with the jurisprudence whether the Adjudicating Authority or the Appellate Authority has the authority to reject a resolution plan approved with requisite majority by the Committee of Creditors (CoC) which is lower than liquidation value in quantitative terms.


Resolution Plan should typically mirror the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (Code) objectives in maximizing the value. The Code, the way it is derafted, puts all its faith in the Committee of Creditors (CoC) in protecting the commercial interest of stakeholders of the corporate debtor while they determine the feasibility and viability of the rival plans placed before them. Maximization of value probably weighs prominently on the minds of collective wisdom of the CoC while they carry the burden of expectations from other stakeholders. It is a tough job. It is about making a difficult choice keeping everyone’s faith intact while ensuring that maximum recoveries are made for their dues as well while the corporate debtor gets a chance to be rehabilitated.

The job of CoC is hard enough to select the suitable resolution plan amongst the available ones. The hardest part surfaces when a resolution plan lower than the liquidation value is received. No one would want to be in that position for taking a call either to approve or reject such a plan as it affects everyone and allegations are likely to fly thick and fast, if such a plan is approved.

Resolution Plan lower than Liquidation Value

One question that begs answers is whether the CoC can consider and approve a plan which is lower than the liquidation value? On the face of it, such an approval looks incongruous as it would seem as defeating the interest of stakeholders while upsetting the objectives of the Code. Practicalities apart, does the provisions of Code in any way bar the CoC to approve such a plan? The Apex Court had the occasion to examine this aspect in Maharashtra Seamless Limited vs. Padmanabhan Venkatesh & Ors[1] particularly whether the scheme of the Code contemplates that the sum forming part of the resolution plan should match the liquidation value or not. In this case, NCLAT has directed that amount in resolution plan should match the liquidation value and this was challenged before Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court noted that that “the object behind prescribing such valuation process is to assist the CoC to take decision on a resolution plan properly. Once, a resolution plan is approved by the CoC, the statutory mandate on the Adjudicating Authority under Section 31(1) of the Code is to ascertain that a resolution plan meets the requirement of sub-sections (2) and (4) of Section 30 thereof.” The Court further opined that the Appellate Authority has proceeded on equitable perception rather than commercial wisdom. The Court felt that “the Court ought to cede ground to the commercial wisdom of the creditors rather than assess the resolution plan on the basis of quantitative analysis.” While recognizing the primacy of commercial wisdom of the CoC, the Apex Court rejected the idea of matching the value of the resolution plan to the liquidation value.

In another judgment[2] rendered on 28th February, 2020, the Apex Court has relied upon the Maharashtra Seamless judgment and set aside the judgment of NCLAT whereby the matter was remitted to NCLT after finding that Section 30(2) of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code together with the principle of maximization of assets of the corporate debtor, a resolution plan which is lesser than liquidation value cannot be accepted. The Supreme Court held that since this issue has been decided in Maharashtra Seamless judgment, the Appellate Tribunal cannot reject resolution plans approved by the CoC, which are lower than liquidation value. 

Conclusion

There is no provision in the Code that justifies a view that resolution plans should carry a value higher than liquidation value. A closer look of the provisions tells us that the Resolution Applicant is not aware of the liquidation value as determined by the Registered Valuers though they may have their own assessment of value. In fact, CoC members also do not know the liquidation value unless the resolution plans are placed before them. Liquidation value, at the most, works as a guidance for the CoC; it cannot be considered as a benchmark and resolution plans offering lower value than liquidation value ought not to be rejected on this ground alone. Of course, the resolution plan must pass the test of feasibility, viability and must be implementable besides satisfying the legal provisions. New lessons are being learnt everyday.


[1] Civil Appeal No. 4242 of 2019 decided on 22nd January, 2020.

[2] State Bank of India vs. Accord Life Spec Private Limited, Civil Appeal No. 9036 of 2019.

Challenges in Insolvency Resolution Cases Involving Property Buyers

Property Buyers under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) rejoiced when they were expressly considered as financial creditors following the prevailing confusion. Hohfield’s jural matrix  correlates power with duty. Property buyers [I prefer using this term than ‘homebuyers’ because of newly inserted Explanation to section 5(8)] were empowered to have a say in the committee of creditors (CoC). Having attained the position of power, they, however,  must not forget their duty to ensure that corporate insolvency resolution process goes on smoothly. On the contrary, few cases that are in progress shows that they are acting as bullies  like a mob swayed by varied opinions without weighing the options that are in their interest. The side-stepped promoters are enjoying the split  between home owners associations of different projects and even sometimes energizing the rift, and happily watching the hassled insolvency professionals. 

The task of insolvency professionals in real-estate cases under IBC is more of a public relation exercise, in which they are unfortunately not trained, with property owners eating away the precious time at hand  by engaging them through constant phone calls, emails, personal visits with all sorts of threats – veiled and open. The insolvency professionals who were used to their cosy offices are suddenly feeling the heat and pressure of a different kind. The complaints against insolvency professional are flowing thick and fast and the Regulators and Adjudicators are having a hard time.

Not only that, even property buyers are being harassed at the hands of IRP/RP and Authorised Representatives. The process has become cumbersome and unfortunately the Regulator has left it to be sorted out on its own without any deep thinking and research on the subject. Writing english by way of Regulations is easy but when it comes to implementation, the avoidable issues that crop up could have been easily taken care of. We see formation of numerous committees on these subjects with some members using their association on social media platforms for enhancing their own image and reputation. The resultant work is not showing results; rather it has compounded the confusion. Serious change in planning and strategy is called for. Regulator cannot get away by saying that ‘everyone is learning by the day’ at public forums.  Regulating is a serious business.

Let us look at some of the challenges being faced by interim resolution professionals or resolution professionals (IRP/RP) while dealing with property buyers and vice versa and here’s my opinion on resolving some of them:

Challenge # 1 : Replacing IRP

Replacing IRP is a time consuming process in cases involving property buyers. IRP constitutes CoC and convenes its first meeting with usual agenda items of  remuneration and expense approval, and an item for his appointment as RP. Perceptively unhappy with the IRP’s functioning so far, the trend in few cases reveals that property buyers have voted out the appointment of IRP as RP. The democratic vote process is the winner but here begins the difficult part. Who will now be in the saddle as RP? Assuming there are 5 projects in different state of progress, there is a deep split amongst the property buyers. Each project has an association leading its way. Consensus to one name is the most arduous process. Once that is done, begins the task of requesting the RP to convene a meeting. As per regulations, financial creditors holding a minimum of 33% voting share must make a request for convening the meeting of CoC for considering agenda for appointment of another RP. Here begins the ‘free for all’.

First Challenge

In many cases, RP has refused to entertain e-mails from property buyers directly advising them to bring it through the Authorized Representative. This is patently wrong as Authorized Representative is not a ‘be-all’ for property buyers as financial creditors; he is merely a link for taking their ‘will’ on agenda items to CoC meetings by representing them. This does not mean that property owners cannot communicate directly with IRP/RP or entertain their request for calling a CoC meeting. IRP/RP should soften their stand as it is not legally tenable. Law permits property buyers to file claims directly to IRP and sort out problems in verification stage. Hence, communicating directly with IRP/RP is not prohibited.

Second Challenge

This begins at the door of Authorized Representative. The property buyers are informed that any requisition has to come via an e-mail. No physical request with signatures of property buyers will be entertained. Property buyers have to pull all their socks and arrange e-mails from one and all to muster 33%. Once that is done, Authorized Representative claims having not received e-mails. Precious days are wasted in locating e-mails in spam, junk and trash folders. Authorised Representatives need to understand that they are there to serve the interest of property buyers and should make it easy for them by not insisting on communicating only through e-mails. The propogators of ‘ease of doing business’ would do well to look into this aspect or else India’s rank for ‘insolvency matters’ is likely to go down.

Third  Challenge

Once 33% voting share is mustered, Authorised Representative throws a spanner by not showing any urgency in forwarding the request to IRP. If by chance, he receives some emails (not aggregating to 33%) from some property buyers suggesting another name, other than the one recommended by 33% voting share, he insists on sending this agenda item to IRP/RP to be included in CoC requisitioned by 33%. This effectively means there will now be a contest between two insolvency professionals for  being appointed as RP. The Authorised Representatives easily forgets that initially he insisted for 33% voting share for any agenda to be sent to IRP.

Fourth Challenge 

The IRP who receives the forwarded request for CoC meeting springs a surprise by insisting that the resolution forwarded for appointment of an IP as RP must contain the remuneration part also. Another round of discussion takes place over few days ignoring the basic intent behind IBC for making the process as ‘time-bound’. Zero knowledge is understandable but half knowledge is a dangerous phenomenon. It is the prerogative of the financial creditors to propose any agenda item in a requisitioned CoC meeting. IBC does not require that resolution for appointment of RP should contain the remuneration also. It can be decided later on as RP may also not be aware of the volume of work involved at this stage. It is a matter of decision by CoC at any stage not necessarily along with the resolution for appointment of RP. Despite being convinced, IRP takes his own time sulking by the fact that his name was rejected by same group of creditors. Calling a meeting in companies in real estate is a painful process with lack of trained IPs and their misconstrued interpretations. IPs should take legal advise from experts on these issues and proceed on the basis of a legal opinion because everything cannot be written in a law or regulations or rules. The focus should be on being logical, reasonable and fair.

(This is part I of continued series of challenges facing resolution of corporate in real estate sector) 

@Ashish Makhija: ashish@ashishmakhija.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are views based on my personal interpretation for academic purposes alone and should not be deemed as legal or professional advise on the subject. If relied upon, the author does not take any responsibility for any liability or non-compliance.

NCLT Knocks Out 137 Days from CIRP

NCLT Principal Bench in a recent order of NIIL Infrastructure Private Limited  directed exclusion of 137 days from CIRP period. The Bench was of the opinion that section 12(2) for extension of time as alternative prayer need not be invoked in the case. In this case, Resolution Professional (RP) was appointed by the Bench after a gap of 114 days after the tenure of Interim Resolution Professional (IRP) ended. Though the IRP organised few meetings of the committee of creditors (CoC) but no decision could be arrived at on the appointment of RP. It was only after the intervention of the Bench that CoC resolved to appoint RP. Earlier also 23 days were lost when inadvertently different IRP was appointed than the one proposed by the financial creditor. The Bench, thus, excluded 137 days from the CIRP period relying upon Quinn Logistics India Pvt Ltd judgement of the NCLAT. This order paves way for exclusion of time as an alternative to extension of time where there is delay in appointment of RP.

© Ashish Makhija: ashish@ashishmakhija.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are views based on my personal interpretation for academic purposes alone and should not be deemed as legal or professional advise on the subject. If relied upon, the author does not take any responsibility for any liability or non-compliance.