NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today gave a green signal to the Bombay High Court to proceed with embattled Sahara's Aamby Valley property auction process, amidst the group's long-running battle with the capital market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). The top court was hearing the SEBI's plea seeking contempt action against the Sahara group for allegedly obstructing the auctioning process.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and A K Sikri also asked the official liquidator of the Bombay High Court to take the help of the Official Receiver and ensure that the luxury town properties in Pune are auctioned. A 'receiver' is a person "placed in the custodial responsibility for the property of others, including tangible and intangible assets and rights", especially in cases where a company cannot meet financial obligations or enters bankruptcy.
"We want the property to be auctioned. Till then, we will appoint the receiver of the Bombay High Court to help in auctioning, till it is complete," the bench said.
It also directed the official liquidator, who has been entrusted with the task of conducting the auction, to take instructions from the company judge or the Bombay High Court.
The Sahara Group had earlier sought 18 months to repay around Rs 9,000 crore balance of the principal amount of Rs 24,000 crore.
The official liquidator of the Bombay HC told the Supreme Court that unprecedented obstructions were being created by the Sahara group.
The auction process of the Aamby Valley property will take around eight weeks starting from December 1.
The apex court had on October 12 taken strong exception to the alleged obstruction by the Sahara Group in the Aamby Valley auctioning process and warned that anybody creating any impediment would be liable for contempt and "sent to jail".
In October, SEBI had moved the apex court, seeking contempt proceedings against the Sahara Group for allegedly obstructing the process of auctioning its Aamby Valley property in Pune, initiated on the apex court's order.
The SEBI claimed that the Aamby Valley property auction process was to start from October but the Sahara Group has been "obstructing" it by allegedly suspending day-to-day business activities in the project. It said that suspension of business activities would create a law and order problem in the area and cause difficulties in carrying out the auction process.
Taking note of SEBI's allegation, the court had said that the group could not have entered into a communication with Pune's Superintendent of the Police (Rural) on the issue since the auction has been ordered by the top court.
The SEBI had alleged that the police has taken custody of the property due to which no bidder was willing to take part in the auction process.
The SEBI had said that the letter was also sent to the additional chief secretary and no bidder was coming forward to bid for the property as the police, while taking note of the letter, has taken its custody.
In its plea, the SEBI had alleged "wilful and deliberate attempt" on Sahara's part "by adopting a subterfuge to cause interference with the administration of justice, especially in a court directed and monitored auction sale of the Aamby Valley property under various orders of the apex court." On August 10, the apex court had rejected Sahara chief Subrata Roy's plea to put on hold the auction process.
It had said the auction process would proceed as per schedule and if Rs 1,500 crore is paid by Roy in the SEBI- Sahara refund account by September 7, then it may pass an appropriate order.
Roy, who has spent almost two years in jail, has been on parole since May 6 last year. The parole was granted the first time to enable him attend his mother's funeral. It has been extended since then.
Besides Roy, two other directors -- Ravi Shankar Dubey and Ashok Roy Choudhary -- were arrested for 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 crore to their investors.
The property is described by the liquidator as an “ultra-exclusive chartered city” that includes timber chalets, modern villas, golf course, hospital, school, and airport, among other amenities. The official liquidator of the Bombay High Court published an auction notice earlier this year inviting prospective bidders for the integrated luxury hill city township spread over 6,761.6 acres near Lonavala in Pune district, as also two land parcels measuring over 1,700 acres.
(With ANI inputs)