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A year of tough legal battles for India Inc

By Sanjeev Kumar & Ranjit Kumar Sinha
January 01, 2015 13:42 IST
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The year 2014 hit the energy sector most when the top court cancelled "fatally flawed" coal block allocations since 1993 and did not mince words in condemning the screening committee decisions, endorsed by all ruling political groups. 

Image: Sahara chief Subrata Roy. Photograph: Reuters

Corporate legal cases kept India Inc on its toes in 2014 as high stake matters on coal, telecom and mining came up in the Supreme Court, which also sent Sahara Group chief Subrata Roy to jail.

Roy's hide and seek game came to an end on March 4 when the apex court sent him along with two directors of the firm to jail for not complying with its order on refunding around Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion) of investors' money.

It trashed Roy's subsequent plea against his detention and frantic effort by the group to raise Rs 10,000 crore (Rs 100 billion) as a condition for his release is yet to see the light of the day.

Photograph: Reuters

The year 2014 hit the energy sector most when the top court cancelled "fatally flawed" coal block allocations since 1993 and did not mince words in condemning the screening committee decisions, endorsed by all ruling political groups.

It put the curtains down on the fate of 214 out of 218 coal blocks and consequential investments of around Rs 2 lakh crore and subsequent attempts of big corporates to wriggle out also proved futile as it shot them down.

While the cat and mouse game between SEBI and Sahara on Roy and strict scrutiny of coalgate was consuming tax payers money and time, the issues relating to illegal mining, 2G spectrum scam and dispute between Mukesh Ambani's RIL and government over the gas pricing from KG basin hogged the limelight about the corporate matters in the Supreme Court.

Image: Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani. Photograph: Reuters

The NDA government told the apex court that the fresh guidelines framed by it would "supersede" previous UPA dispensation's policy on price fixation for natural gas which has come under scrutiny in the wake of PILs including one filed in 2013 by senior CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta.

The PILs have also sought cancellation of Reliance Industries Ltd's contract for exploration of oil and gas from the KG basin.

Pending the PILs, on the separate related issue, the apex court finally succeeded in appointing an international arbitrator as the chairman for adjudication of dispute between the RIL and the government over recovery of cost for developing the country's key natural gas field in KG basin.

Retired Australian judge Michael Kirby would act as a Chairman and other two members of the Arbitral Tribunal are former Chief Justices of India -- S P Bharucha and V N Khare. basin. It is learnt that Justice Bharucha has opted out and RIL has nominated a foreign arbitrator in his place.

The grant of 4G licences to Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL) also reached the apex court in the middle of 2014 and the PIL challenging it will travel this year. 

However in the telecom sector, the issues arising out of 2G spectrum allocation scam and probe relating to it kept busy the apex court which not only monitored the CBI investigation but removed its outgoing director Ranjit Sinha for protecting some of the high profile accused.

Image: Dayanidhi Maran. Photograph: Reuters

The constant vigil by the top court led to the filing of charge sheet in the Aircel-Maxis deal involving former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran and Malaysian business tycoon T Ananda Krishnan in the special CBI Court before which the agency said that it was also probing the FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) approval granted by then Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

The telecom firms further suffered another jolt as the apex court, in a verdict having far-reaching consequences, trashed their pleas that their accounts cannot be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.

When nation's wealth, like spectrum, is being dealt with either by the Union, State or its instrumentalities or even by the private telecom service providers, they are accountable to the people and to Parliament, it said and upheld the verdict of the Delhi High Court on the issue.

The CAG audit is "extremely important" to ascertain whether the firms have received "unlawful gain" and as a consequence, caused loss of money which could have gone to the Consolidated Fund of India, it said.

Photograph: Reuters

While issues arising from black money matter was putting the government on backfoot, the authorities placed a list of names of Indians having parked money in foreign banks which hit hard to FMCG major Dabur as it mentioned the name of one of its promoters, Pradip Burman, an NRI.

However, in a major relief to the miners in Goa, the apex court allowed an annual cap of 20 million tonnes of iron ore to be extracted in Goa which was banned by it in the state for nearly one-and-a-half years.

It, however, said that the expert panel will give a final recommendation on annual cap on excavation of iron ore within six months.

Photograph: Reuters

Real estate giants DLF and Supertech Ltd found themselves at the receiving ends in the apex court. It asked DLF to deposit a fine of Rs 630 crore in tranches slapped on it by the Competition Commission of India in 2011 for allegedly resorting to unfair business practices.

Supertech, hit hard by the order of the Allahabad High Court ordering demolition of its two 40-floor towers in Noida, moved the apex court which, though agreed to examine the plea of the firm, but ordered it not to sell or transfer flats.

In 2014, the apex court asked the Andhra Pradesh High Court, which had stayed the $4 billion merger of Ranbaxy with Sun Pharma, to decide the issue expeditiously. 

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Sanjeev Kumar & Ranjit Kumar Sinha
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