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Corporate Legal Battle: TATA vs MISTRY ( PART 1)

Corporate Legal Battle: TATA vs MISTRY ( PART 1)

BRIEF BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

Tata conglomerate is India’s largest business group running businesses in seven sectors in more than eighty countries. Tata Sons is the holding company of the Tata Group. Tata Sons is an unlisted company. Around 66 % of its shares are owned by the various Tata trusts, most importantly Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (27.97%) and Sir Ratan Tata Trust (23.56%). 

The next major chunk of 18% is controlled by Shapoorji Pallonji Group, whose heir apparent is Cyrus Mistry. (“Mistry”). Cyrus Pallonji Mistry  is an Irish businessman of Indian origin . He was the chairman of Tata Group, an Indian business conglomerate, from 2012 to 2016.[He was the sixth chairman of the group, and only the second (after Nowroji Saklatwala) to not bear the surname Tata. In mid-2012, Cyrus Mistrywas chosen by a selection panel to head the Tata Group and took charge in December the same year. 

In 2016, the Board removed Cyrus Mistry from and the Board constituted a Selection Committee comprising Mr. Ratan N. Tata, Mr. Venu Srinivasan, Mr. Amit Chandra, Mr. Ronen Sen and Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, as per the provisions in the Articles of Association of Tata Sons, to choose a new Chairman within four month.

 

 

BREAKING] Supreme Court to pronounce Judgment tomorrow in Tata Sons v. Cyrus Mistry dispute

STAKES OF TATA SONS 

Cyrus Mistry, son of pallonji Mistry who is the owner of the shapoorji pallonji group and one of the biggest stakeholder in the Tata Group .

He was appointed to the top position in 2012

ShareholderNo. of SharesShareholding percentage (%)
Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry1080.26723
Sterling investment Corp

Shapoorji PAllonji Group

371209.18489
Cyrus Investment

( Shapoorji Pallonji Group)

371209.18489
Ratan Tata33680.83337
Sir Dorabji Tata Trust11306727.97705
Sir Ratan Tata Trust9521123.558

COMPLAINT BY CYRUS MISTRY BEFORE HON’BLE NATIONAL COMPANY LAW TRIBUNAL 

The acts of oppression and mismanagement complaint against Tata Sons revolved around 

  1. alleged abuse of the Articles of Association, particularly Articles 121, 121A, 86, 104B and 118, to enable the trusts and its nominee Directors to exercise control over the Board of Directors; 
  2. alleged illegal removal of Cyrus Mistry as Executive Chairman without any notice and an all out attempt to remove him from the Directorship of all the operating companies of the Tata group; 
  3. alleged dubious transactions in relation to Tata Teleservices Limited, alongwith one Mr. C. Sivasankaran; 
  4.  Ratan Tata allegedly treating Tata Sons as a proprietorship concern with all others acting as puppets, resulting in the Board of Directors failing the test of fairness and probity 
  5. acquisition of Corus Group PLC of UK at an inflated price and then jeopardising the talks for its merger with ThyssenKrupp 
  6. Nano car project becoming a disaster with losses accumulating year after year and the conflict of interest that Ratan Tata had in the supply of Nano gliders to a company where he had stakes; 
  7. providing corporate guarantee to IL & FS Trust Company for the loan sanctioned by Standard Chartered Bank to Sterling 
  8. making Kalimati Investments Ltd, a subsidiary of Tata Steel to provide an inter corporate bridge loan to Sterling; 
  9. the dealings with NTT DoCoMo and Sterling resulting in an arbitration award for a staggering amount; 
  10. leaking information to Siva of Sterling that resulted in Siva issuing legal notices to Tata Teleservices and Tata Sons
  11. Ratan Tata making a personal gain for himself through the sale of a flat owned by a Tata group company to Mehli Mistry; 
  12. companies controlled by Mehli Mistry receiving favours due to the personal relationship that Ratan Tata had with him; and 
  13. fraudulent transactions in the deal with Air Asia which led to financing of terrorism.

 

REPLY OF RATAN TATA TO THE ALLEGATIONS

Tata Sons filed a reply to the company petition contending interalia: 

  1. that Cyrus Mistry, who was removed from the post of Executive Chairman, after having lost the confidence of 7 out of 9 Directors, has sought to use the complainant companies to besmirch the reputation of Tata Group; 
  2.  that even the decisions to which Cyrus Mistry was a party have been questioned in the petition;
  3. that Tata Group founded in 1868 is a global enterprise,headquartered in India, comprising over a hundred operating companies, having presence in more than 100 countries across six continents, collectively employing over 6,60,000 people; 
  4. that Articles 104Band 121 were introduced through a new version of Articles of Association at the Annual General Meeting of Tata Sons held on 13.09.2000 and Article 121 was subsequently amended byResolution dated 09.04.2014;
  5. that though the mail was marked confidential, it was simultaneously leaked to the press;
  6. that Cyrus Mistry also breached his fiduciary and contractual duties by disclosing confidential information and documents pertaining toTata Sons to third parties;
  7. that the complainant companies have cherry picked certain business decisions to launch a vitriolic attack on the Tata Trusts; 
  8. that while the complainant companies have talked about bad business deals, such as Corus acquisition and Nano Project, they have deliberately omitted to talk about Tetley acquisition by Tata Global Beverages Limited, the immensely successful Jaguar Land Rover acquisition by Tata Motors and the phenomenal success of Tata Consultancy Services;
  9. that Corus acquisition, the Nano Project, contracts awarded to the business concerns of Mr. Mehli Mistry and the investment by Mr.C. Sivasankaran have surfaced only after the replacement of Mr. Cyrus Mistry as the Executive Chairman; 
  10. that Cyrus Mistry has been the Director of Tata Sons since the year 2006 and was also the Executive Chairman from December, 2012 to October, 2016 and was fully aware of how the decisions relating to these projects were taken when they were taken;
  11. that courts cannot be called upon to sit in judgment over the commercial decisions of the Board of Directors of companies; and
  12. that even commercial misjudgments of the Board of Directors cannot be branded as instances of oppression and mismanagement.

RELIEF SOUGHT BY CYRUS MISTRY FROM HON’BLE NATIONAL COMPANY LAW TRIBUNAL 

  1. The necessity of an affirmative vote of the majority of directors nominated by the Trusts, which are majority shareholders, be deleted; 
  2. The Petitioners be entitled to proportionate representation on the Board of Directors of Respondent No .1; 
  3. The Petitioners be entitled to representation on all committees formed by the Board of Directors of Respondent No.1; and 
  4. The Articles of Association be amended accordingly

JUDGEMENT OF HON’BLE NATIONAL COMPANY LAW TRIBUNAL  (2016)

  1.  Removal of Mr. Cyrus Mistry as Executive Chairman on 24.10.2016 is because the Board of Directors and Majority of Shareholders, ie., Tata Trusts lost confidence in Mr. Cyrus as Chairman, not because by contemplating that Mr. Cyrus would cause discomfort to Mr. Tata, Mr. Soonawala and other answering Respondents over purported legacy issues. Board of Directors are competent to remove the Executive Chairman; no selection committee recommendation Is required before removing him as Executive Chairman. 
  2. Removal of Mr. Cyrus Mistry from the position of Director is because he admittedly sent the company information to Income Tax Authorities; leaked the company information to Media and openly come out against the Board and the Trusts, which hardly augurs well for smooth functioning of the company, and we have not found any merit to believe that his removal as director falls within the ambit of section 241 of Companies Act 2013. 
  3. We have not found any merit to hold that proportional representation on Board proportionate to the shareholding of the petitioners is possible so long as Articles do not have such mandate as envisaged under section 163 of Companies Act, 2013. 
  4. We have not found any merit in purported legacy issues, such as Siva issue, TISL issue, Nano car issue, Corus issue, Mr. Mehli issue and Air Asia issue to state that those issues fall within the ambit of section 241 and 242 of Companies Act 2013. 
  5. We also have not found any merit to say that the company filing application under section 14 of Companies Act 2013 asking this Tribunal to make it from Public to Private falls for consideration under the jurisdiction of section 241 & 242 of Companies Act 2013. 
  6. We have also found no merit in saying that Mr. Tata & Mr. Soonawala giving advice and suggestions amounted to interference in administering the affairs of the company, so that to consider their conduct as prejudicial to the interest of the company under section 241 of Companies Act 2013. 
  7. We have found no merit in the argument that Mr. Tata and Mr. Soonawala acted as shadow directors superimposing their wish upon the company so that action would be taken under section 241 & 242 of Companies Act 2013. 
  8. We have not found any merit in the argument that Articles 75, 1048, 118, 121 of the Articles of Association per se oppressive against the petitioners. 
  9. We have not found any merit in the argument that Majority Rule has taken a back seat by introduction of corporate governance in Companies Act, 2013, it is like corporate democracy is genesis, and corporate governance is specific. They are never in conflict with each other; the management is rather more accountable to the shareholders under the present regime. Corporate governance is collective responsibility, not based on assumed free-hand rule which is alien to the concept of collective responsibility endowed upon the Board.
  10. We have observed that prejudice remedy has been included in 2013 Act in addition to oppressive remedy already there and also included application of “just and equitable” ground as precondition to pass any relief in mismanagement issues, which was not the case under old Act.

Author: Vinay Sachdev

Editor: Adv. Aditya Bhatt & Adv. Chandni Joshi

Corporate Legal Battle: TATA vs MISTRY (PART 2)

Corporate Legal Battle: TATA vs MISTRY (PART 2)

 

Check Part 1 of Tata vs Mistry Corporate Legal Battle, here

After the judgement of Hon’ble National Company Law Tribunal, Interlocutory Applications have been preferred by the Registrar of Companies, Mumbai for seeking amendment in Judgment.

[BREAKING] Supreme Court to pronounce Judgment tomorrow in Tata Sons v. Cyrus Mistry dispute

 

JUDGEMENT OF HON’BLE NATIONAL COMPANY LAW APPELLATE TRIBUNAL  (2018)

Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal  held that the removal of Mistry from his post was neither discussed nor expected as the records show the company under his leadership flourished and hence a case of lack of performance cannot be built. Hence, he was restored as Director of various companies and even the Executive Chairman of Tata Sons but after four weeks of the judgment.

While Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal , accepting the consequences of this article in light of the facts, ordered Tata sons to refrain from invoking against Shapoorji Pallonji Group. 7 Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal , on the other hand, identified a case of prejudice and oppression by the board against the minority shareholders and the company. It held that the conversion from public to private was hurriedly done amidst a pending litigation and it was illegal and unsustainable as it did not even follow proper procedures under Section 14 clause 8. The verdict asked the Registrar of Companies to make the correction and declared Tata to remain public. . Although Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal  accepted this claim, they refused to accept that legitimate expectations, which are a result of mutual trust and confidence, arising from such a partnership can be a factor of oppression. Through a plethora of judgments, the Hon’ble Supreme Courthas established certain principles in order to determine a company as a quasi-partnership but Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal  ignored these principles and used its own understanding to back such reasoning. 

IT also held that mismanagement can be easily visible through the losses incurred by Tata Sons and other firms through prejudicial decisions taken by the respective Board of Directors which were essentially filled with a majority of Tata Trust’s representatives. Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal  set aside the judgment and ruled in favour of Mistry and Shapoorji Pallonji Group. These are very contrasting judgments with respect to every aspect of law which the case dealt with. 

The same now has been appealed to the Hon’ble Supreme Court by Tata Sons. Post the stay of the Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal  order by the Supreme Court, Mistry appealed against this same order seeking judicial protection and Board of Directors representation for his family i.e. the minority shareholders. This new appeal will be heard along with the appeal of Tata Sons before a Hon’ble Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice Surya Kant and Justice B.R. Gavai.

RATAN TATA APPEAL IN SUPREME COURT

Tata Sons (Private) Limited has come up with two appeals in Civil Appeal Nos.1314 of 2020, challenging a final order dated 18/12/2019 passed by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, which is,

  1. Holding as illegal, the proceedings of the sixth meeting of the Board of Directors of TATA Sons Limited held on 24.10.2016 in so far as it relates to the removal of Shri Cyrus Mistry.  
  2.  Restoring the position of Cyrus Mistry as the Executive Chairman of Tata Sons Limited and consequently as a Director of the Tata Companies for the rest of the tenure; 
  3.  Declaring as illegal the appointment of someone else in the place of Cyrus Mistry as Executive Chairman; 
  4. Restraining Shri Ratan N. Tata and the nominees of Tata Trust from taking any decision in advance; 
  5. Restraining the Company, its Board of Directors and Shareholders from exercising the power under Article 75 of the Articles of Association against the minority members except in exceptional circumstances and in the interest of the Company; and 
  6. Declaring it illegal, the decision of the Registrar of Companies for changing the status of Tata Sons Limited from being a public company into a private company.

QUESTION OF THE LAW ARISES IN THE CASE

  1. Whether the formation of opinion by the Appellate Tribunal that the company’s affairs have been or are being conducted in a manner prejudicial and oppressive to some members and that the facts otherwise justify the winding up of the company on just and equitable ground, is in tune with the well settled principles and parameters, especially in the light of the fact that the findings of Hon’ble National Company Law Tribunal  on facts were not individually and specifically overturned by the Appellate Tribunal ?
  2. Whether the reliefs granted and the directions issued by the Appellate Tribunal, including the reinstatement of Cyrus Mistry into the Board of Tata Sons and other Tata companies, are in consonance with the pleadings made, the reliefs sought and the powers available under Subsection (2) of Section 242 ?
  3.  Whether the Appellate Tribunal could have, in law, muted the power of the Company under Article 75 of the Articles of Association, to demand any member to transfer his ordinary shares, by simply injuncting the company from exercising such a right without setting aside the Article ?
  4. Whether the characterization by the Tribunal, of the affirmative voting rights available under Article 121 to the Directors nominated by the Trusts in terms of Article 104B, as oppressive and prejudicial, is justified especially after the challenge to these Articles have been given up expressly and whether the Tribunal could have granted a direction to Ratan Tata and the Nominee Directors virtually nullifying the effect of these Articles ?
  5. Whether the reconversion of Tata Sons from a public company into a private company, required the necessary approval under section 14 of the Companies Act, 2013 or at least an action under section 43A(4) of the Companies Act, 1956 during the period from 2000 (when Act 53 of 2000 came into force) to 2013 (when the 2013 Act was enacted) as held by Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal  ?

ISSUES BEFORE HONOURABLE Hon’ble Supreme Court(2020)

  1. What constitutes oppression and mismanagement at a company? 
  2. How far do a tribunal’s powers go when deciding such a case? 
  3. Should nominee directors of a majority shareholder have substantial affirmative powers? 
  4. The legality of Tata Sons’ conversion from public company to private company. 
  5. The fate of Mistry’s directorship on the Tata Sons board. And, what this 5-year long battle says about India’s foremost conglomerate, the Tata Group – with over $100 billion in revenue.

HON’BLE APEX COURT JUDGEMENT ON CYRUS-MISTRY CASE

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has comprehensively dismissed every charge of oppression and mismanagement made by entities owned by Cyrus Mistry against Tata Sons Pvt. Not just that, the court has gone so far as to suggest there never was a case to begin with. That the original cause of action was Mistry’s dismissal as chairman of Tata Sons. Everything else was a dressing up of that cause. 

“Though the complainant companies padded up their actual grievance with various historical facts to make a deceptive appearance, the causa proxima for the complaint was the removal of Cyrus Mistry (Cyrus Pallonji Mistry) from the office of executive chairman.” But removal of a chairman, or even director of a company is not grounds enough to determine oppression or prejudicial behaviour, the apex court said whilst overturning the decision of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal that had found oppression and mismanagement and ordered the reinstatement of Mistry. 

While Mistry made several specific charges against Tata Sons in the oppression case, the Hon’ble Supreme Courtexamined only a few. The court’s explanation for this was that the National Company Law Tribunal had dismissed each of the charges whereas the Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal  overturned only a few of the tribunal’s dismissals. Since tribunals are courts of fact and the Hon’ble Supreme Court of law, it limited its proceedings to the conclusions arrived at by the Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal .

On Mistry’s removal as executive chairman of Tata Sons, the top court noted that it is a well settled position that certain failed business decisions or a removal of a person from directorship cannot be called as acts oppressive to minority shareholders. In such a case (under Section 241, 242 of company law) a tribunal, the court said, cannot ask whether the removal was correct/valid but it has to see whether such removal would tantamount to oppression of the minority shareholders.

Both, with regard to Mistry’s oppression case and the Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal ’s findings, the top court examined several aspects of the Articles of Association of Tata Sons, including rights such as affirmative votes, pre-consultation with Tata Trusts. It dismissed each of Mistry’s arguments and stated the Tata Group was guided by corporate governance and had included many practices, such as board committees, etc. even though it was not required by law to have them.

Article 121 of Tata Sons’ Articles of Association grants affirmative voting rights to the nominee directors of the Tata Trusts in certain matters. The top court pointed out that such rights are a global norm and in this case they confer only a limited right on the nominee directors. Going by the shareholding, Tata Trusts with 66% could have packed the board, the court said, while noting it didn’t

Article 75 allows Tata Sons to resolve by special resolution the transfer of any shareholder’s shares. Mistry has termed this as coercive. The Hon’ble Supreme Court viewed it as an exit clause. Besides, it said Article 75 had never been invoked and future action is not covered under oppression. Also, Article 75 has existed for decades and Mistry was himself party to an amendment in the year 2000 which gave article 75 in its present form.

The court opined that given the charitable objectives of the Tata Trusts, their nominee directors on board Tata Sons are not like any other ordinary directors. It also questioned whether the need for having independent directors on the board itself was an acknowledgment that not every director could be expected to exercise completely independent judgment irrespective of who nominated them. A nominee director of the Trusts holds a fiduciary duty towards their beneficiaries.

The top court also detailed the shifting arguments of the Mistry side through the five-year long litigation on seeking certain reliefs. The plea for reinstatement of Mistry was later amended to seek proportionate representation on the board. While challenging the affirmative voting rights of the Tata Trusts’ nominee directors on Tata Sons’ board, Mistry’s case sought the same rights for his SP Group. The court termed the request for the same rights as “quite funny”.

CONCLUSION

Thus in fine, all the questions of law are liable to be answered in favour of the appellants Tata group and the appeals filed by the Tata Group are liable to be allowed and the appeal filed by S.P. Group is liable to be dismissed. But before we do that we should also deal with the application moved by S.P. Group before us during the pendency of these proceedings, praying for the alternative relief of directing Tata Sons and others to cause a separation of ownership interests of the S.P. Group in Tata sons through a scheme of reduction of capital by extinguishing the shares held by the S.P. Group in lieu of fair compensation effected through a transfer of proportionate shares of the underlying listed companies, with the balance value of unlisted companies and intangibles including brand value being settled in cash.

Interestingly, such an application was filed after Tata Group moved an application for restraining S.P. Group from raising money by pledging shares and this court passed an order of status quo on 22.09.2020. For the first time S.P. Group seems to have realized the futility of the litigation and the nature of the order that the Tribunal can pass under Section 242. This is reflected in Paragraph 62 of the application, where S.P. Group has stated that they are seeking such an alternative remedy as a means to put an end to the matters complained of.

As a matter of fact, S.P. Group should have sought such relief from the Tribunal even at the beginning. As we have pointed out elsewhere a divorce without acrimony is what is encouraged both in England and in India under the statutory regime.

But in an appeal under Section 423 of the Companies Act, 2013, this Court is concerned with questions of law arising out of the order of Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal . Therefore, we will not decide this prayer. It should be pointed out at this stage that Article 75 of the Articles of Association is nothing but a provision for an exit option (though one may think of it as an expulsion option). After attacking Article 75 before Hon’ble National Company Law Tribunal , the S.P. Group cannot ask this Court to go into the question of fixation of fair value compensation for exercising an exit option. What is pleaded in Paragraph 72 of the application for separation of ownership interests, requires an adjudication on facts,of various items. The valuation of the shares of S.P. Group depends upon the value of the stake of Tata Sons in listed equities, unlisted equities, immovable assets etc., and also perhaps the funds raised by SP group on the security/pledge of these shares. Therefore, at this stage and in this Court, we cannot adjudicate on the fair compensation. We will leave it to the parties to take the Article 75 route or any other legally available route in this regard. In the result, all the appeals except C.A. No.1802 of 2020 is allowed and the order of Hon’ble National Company Law Appellate Tribunal  dated 18.12.2019 is set aside. The Company Petition C.P. No. 82 of 2016 filed before Hon’ble National Company Law Tribunal  by the two Companies belonging to the S.P. Group shall stand dismissed. The appeal C.A. No.1802 of 2020 filed by Cyrus Investments Pvt. Ltd., and Sterling Investments Corporation Pvt. Ltd. is dismissed. There will be no order as to costs. All IAs including the one for causing separation of ownership interests of the S.P. Group in Tata Sons namely IA No.111387 of 2020, are dismissed.

 

Author: Vinay Sachdev

Editor: Adv. Aditya Bhatt & Adv. Chandni Joshi

Difference Between Operational And Financial Creditors

Difference Between Operational And Financial Creditors

INTRODUCTION.

“creditor” means any person to whom a debt is owed and includes a financial creditor, an operational creditor, a secured creditor, an unsecured creditor and a decree holder”

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 differentiates between financial creditors and operational creditors. Financial Creditors are those whose relationship with the entity is a pure financial contract, such as a loan or a debt security. Operational creditors are those whose liability from the entity comes from a transaction on operations. 

Creditors

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) has consolidated and amended the laws relating to reorganization and insolvency of corporate persons, partnership firms and individual firms. The sole intention of this legislation is to facilitate resolution of corporate bankruptcy in a time bound manner.  The IBC has introduced new and distinct concepts of ‘Financial Creditor’ and ‘Operational Creditor‘ as opposed to the Companies Act, 2013 which merely introduced the term ‘creditor’, without any classification thereof.

Today, the maintainability of applications for initiating corporate insolvency resolution process chiefly depends on the applicant first satisfying the Tribunal that it falls either within the definition of ‘Financial Creditor’ or ‘Operational Creditor’ under the IBC. In this article, we are particularly discussing the Order dated 20th February 2017 passed by the Hon’ble National Company Law Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi in Col. Vinod Awasthy v. AMR Infrastructure Limited1 whereby the Hon’ble Tribunal interpreted the definition of ‘Operational Creditor’ under the IBC to ascertain the applicability of the same to a flat purchaser.

Prior to discussing the aforesaid Order, it is imperative to first understand the definitions of ‘Financial Creditor’ and ‘Operational Creditor’ under the IBC.

A financial creditor is defined under Section 5(7) of the IBC to mean

a person to whom a financial debt is owed and includes a person to whom such debt has been legally assigned or transferred“.

An operational creditor is defined under Section 5(20) of the IBC to mean

any person to whom an operational debt is owed and includes any person to whom such debt has been legally assigned or transferred“.

In order to ascertain whether a person would fall within the definition of an operational creditor, the debt owed to such a person must fall within the definition of an operational debt as defined under Section 5(21) of the IBC.

Difference by the bankruptcy law 

Distinction between a financial creditor and operational creditor has been drawn by the Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee in para 5.2.1 of its final report. It states:

Here, the Code differentiates between financial creditors and operational creditors. Financial creditors are those whose relationship with the entity is a pure financial contract, such as a loan or debt security. Operational creditors are those whose liabilities from the entity comes from a transaction on operations…The Code also provides for cases where a creditor has both a solely financial transaction as well as an operational transaction with the entity. In such a case, the creditor can be considered a financial creditor to the extent of the financial debt and an operational creditor to the extent of the operational debt.”

It is clearly evident that the lawmakers have chalked out distinct definitions of ‘financial creditor’ and ‘operational creditor’ and that they are not to be interpreted as inclusive or exclusive of each other.

Detailed differences between Financial Creditor and Operational Creditor

 

particulars.Financial Creditor.Operational Creditor.
Meaning Section 5 (7) – Financial creditor

means any person to whom a financial debt is owed and includes a person to whom such debt has been legally assigned or transferred to.

Section 5 (20) – Operational

creditor means a person to whom

an operational debt is owed and includes any person to whom such debt has been legally assigned or

transferred.

Voting shareSection 5 (28) – Voting right of a

financial creditor is based on

the proportion of the financial

debt owed to such a financial creditor. The approval of

committee of creditor shall be

obtained by a vote of not less than

seventy five percent of the voting shares. 

Operational creditor shall not have

any right to vote at the meeting

of committee of creditors. 

Initiation of corporate

insolvency resolution

process

Section 7 (1) – On occurrence of a

default, a financial creditor shall

either by itself or jointly with other

financial creditors may file an

application for initiating corporate

insolvency resolution process

against a corporate debtor before

the Adjudicating Authority

Section 8 (1) – On occurrence of a

default the operational creditor

may, deliver a demand notice of

unpaid operational debtor copy of

an invoice demanding payment of

the amount involved in the default

to the corporate debtor. The

operation creditor may file an

application after the expiry of 10

days from the date of delivery of

the notice or invoice demanding

payment under sub-section (1) of

section 8, if the operational

creditor does not receive payment

from the corporate debtor or

notice of the dispute under subsection (2) of section 8. 

Appointment of IRPSection 7 (3) – The financial

creditor shall along with the

application furnish the name of the

resolution professional proposed

to act as an interim resolution

professional. 

Section 9 (4) – An operational

creditor may propose a resolution

professional to act as an

 interim resolution

professional. 

Constitution of

Committee of Creditors

Section 21 (2) – The committee of

creditors shall consist solely of

financial creditors, and all financial

creditors of the corporate debtor. 

Operational creditors shall not

form part of the committee. 

 

Hon’ble National Company Law Tribunal on ‘Operational Creditors’

In Col. Vinod Awasthy v. AMR Infrastructure Limited, the Hon’ble Tribunal while dismissing the Petition instituted under Section 9 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) at the admission stage itself, decided the issue of whether a flat purchaser would fall within the definition of an ‘Operational Creditor‘ as defined under Section 5(20) of the IBC to whom an ‘Operational Debt’ as defined under Section 5(21) of the IBC is owed.

The Hon’ble Tribunal observed that the framers of the IBC had not intended to include within the expression of an ‘operation debt’ a debt other than a financial debt. Therefore, an operational debt would be confined only to four categories as specified in Section 5(21) of the IBC like goods, services, employment and Government dues. The Tribunal held that the debt owed to the Petitioner (a flat purchaser in this case) had not arisen from any goods, services, employment or dues which were payable under any statute to the Centre / State Government or local bodies. Rather, the refund sought to be recovered by the Petitioner was associated with the possession of immovable property.

The Hon’ble Tribunal while deciding the question of whether a flat purchaser could be considered an operation creditor considered the observations of the Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee in paragraph no. 5.2.1 of the Final Report:

“Operational Creditors are those whose liability from the entity comes from a transaction on operations. Thus, the wholesale vendor of spare parts whose spark plugs are kept in inventory by car mechanics and who gets paid only after the spark plugs are sold is an operational creditor. Similarly, the lessor that the entity rents out space from is an operational creditor to whom the entity owes monthly rent on a three-year lease.”

The Hon’ble Tribunal held that the Petitioner had neither supplied goods nor had rendered any services to acquire the status of an ‘Operational Creditor’.

It was further held that it was not possible to construe Section 9 read with Section 5(20) and Section 5(21) of the IBC so widely to include within its scope, cases where dues were on account of advance made to purchase a flat or a commercial site from a construction company like the Respondent especially when the Petitioner had other remedies available under the Consumer Protection Act and the General Law of the land.

Supreme Court’s View

The difference between financial and operational creditors under the Code is not merely surficial – it is fundamental. If the crux of the insolvency regime is priorities, the priorities of the two in the distribution waterfall differ, even if both are unsecured. Is this a differentiation, or discrimination?  The differentiation, along with certain other provisions of the Code, was challenged before the Supreme Court in a bunch of petitions. 

In Swiss Ribbons Ltd. v. Union of India, the Supreme Court observed that :

“A perusal of the definition of ‘financial creditor’’ and ‘financial debt’ makes it clear that a financial debt is a debt together with interest, if any, which is disbursed against the consideration for time value of money. It may further be money that is borrowed or raised in any of the manners prescribed in Section 5(8) or otherwise, as Section 5(8) is an inclusive definition. On the other hand, an ‘operational debt’ would include a claim in respect of the provision of goods or services, including employment, or a debt in respect of payment of dues arising under any law and payable to the Government or any local

authority.” And, “financial creditors generally lend finance on a term loan or for working capital that enables the corporate debtor to either set up and/or operate its business. On the other hand, contracts with operational creditors are relatable to supply of goods and services in the operation of business. Financial contracts generally involve large sums of money. By way of contrast, operational contracts have dues whose quantum is generally less.” The difference between operational and financial debt/creditors was thus upheld by the Supreme Court. The most important consideration in determining whether a debt is a financial debt or an operational debt is to “intent of the parties”. Merely because a creditor claims interest for a delayed payment, does not imply that the debt is financial – in such transactions, interest is contemplated as a ‘penalty’ and not ‘returns’. Also, lending for time value of money does not necessarily involve ‘interest’. In order to qualify to be a financial debt, what matters is that the amount was disbursed against time value of money, whether or not expressed in terms of ‘interest’. Besides financial and operational debts, there can be other types of debts too – however, such other creditors are not entitled to initiate an application under the Code, but can file claims in the specified form.