Home » Between The Lines » Between The Lines | NCLAT: Moratorium under Section 14 of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 is no bar for initiation of proceedings under Section 66 of the IBC

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The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi (“NCLAT”) has in its judgment dated August 4, 2022 in the matter of Rakesh Kumar Jain v. Jagdish Singh Nain and Others [Company Appeal (AT) (Ins.) No. 425 of 2022] held that the moratorium imposed under Section 14 (Moratorium) of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (“IBC”) is not a bar for initiation of proceedings against the resolution professional of a company undergoing Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (“CIRP”) under Section 66 (Fraudulent trading or wrongful trading) of IBC.

Facts

Mr. Rakesh Kumar Jain (“Appellant”) is the resolution professional of HBN Homes Colonizers Limited, a company undergoing CIRP. Mr. Jagdish Singh Nain (“Respondent”) is the resolution professional of HBN Foods Limited, a company which is also undergoing CIRP.

Respondent had preferred an application bearing number IA/2844/2020 before the National Company Law Tribunal, New Delhi (“NCLT”) under Section 66, 68, 69, 70 and other relevant provisions of the IBC, whereby the Appellant was one of the respondents. In IA/2844/2020, Respondent had, inter alia, sought the reliefs as set out herein below:


a. Allow the present Application;

b. Declare the transactions entered by/with the Corporate Debtor with the Non-Applicants/ Respondent from the period 01.03.2013 and 21.10.2019 as sham and fraudulent transactions, therefore null and void;

c. Direct the respective Non-Applicants/Respondents to contribute to the assets of the Corporate Debtor in terms of Section 66 of the Code by reimbursing/refunding the amount with an interest @12% as mentioned in ANNEXURE A-4 (Colly) till the date of payment; …”

During the lockdown imposed on account of Covid-19 pandemic, the Appellant was served with a copy of IA/2844/2020, but he could not keep track of the aforesaid application and represent himself during the proceeding. By virtue of order dated July 13, 2021, the NCLT forfeited the right of the Appellant to file reply to the aforesaid application.

Thereafter, by virtue of order dated December 13, 2021, the NCLT allowed IA/2844/2020 and inter alia held that the respondents in IA/2844/2020 (including the Appellant herein) have misappropriated INR 2687.27 Lakhs and they are jointly and severally liable to make such contribution to the assets of HBN Foods Limited. The NCLT further directed Respondent to institute criminal prosecution against the respondents (including the Appellant herein) in IA/2844/2020 under Section 69 (Punishment for transactions defrauding creditors) of the IBC.

Aggrieved by the impugned order dated December 13, 2021 passed by the NCLT, the Appellant preferred an appeal before the NCLAT.

Issue

Whether the adjudicating authority is competent to pass order under Section 66 (Fraudulent trading or wrongful trading) of IBC during subsistence of moratorium under Section 14 (Moratorium) of IBC.

Arguments

Contentions raised by the Appellant:

The Appellant submitted that HBN Homes Colonizers Limited is undergoing CIRP and is under the protection of moratorium as envisaged under Section 14 (Moratorium) of the IBC. In view of the aforesaid, it was further submitted that no proceeding could be initiated against HBN Homes Colonizers Limited and hence, NCLT committed a serious error in passing the impugned order, inter alia, against HBN Homes Colonizers Limited in IA/2844/2020 filed under Section 66 (Fraudulent trading or wrongful trading) of the IBC, which is ex-facie erroneous and bad in law.

Contentions raised by the Respondent:

The Respondent contended that HBN Homes Colonizers Limited entered into fraudulent transactions which is against the interests of the creditors.

The Respondent further submitted that Section 14(1)(a) of the IBC has no application to the facts and circumstances of the present case, whereas Section 60(5) of the IBC provides for adjudication of issues pertaining to corporate debtor during the course of the CIRP or liquidation process. Hence, the Respondent contended that Section 14(1)(a) is not a bar to pass an appropriate order under Section 66 (Fraudulent trading or wrongful trading) of the IBC, and therefore, the impugned order passed by NCLT while exercising power under Section 60(5) of the IBC requires no interference.

Observations of the NCLAT

The NCLAT observed that the Appellant has not challenged the impugned order dated December 13, 2021 passed by the NCLT on merits, but has limited his contentions to the issue of legality of the order passed under Section 66 (Fraudulent trading or wrongful trading) of the IBC against a company which is undergoing CIRP and is under the protection of moratorium envisaged under Section 14 (Moratorium) of the IBC.

The NCLAT observed that Section 14(1)(a) of the IBC prohibits institution and continuation of adjudication of suits or proceedings including execution of any judgment, decree or order in any court of law, tribunal, arbitration panel or other authority against the corporate debtor. However, it does not prohibit passing any order by the NCLT during CIRP or liquidation process against resolution professional and its suspended directors and related parties.

The NCLAT further observed that Section 66 of the IBC empowers the NCLT to pass appropriate orders in case of fraudulent transactions against the suspended board of directors or resolution professional and related parties.

The NCLAT further observed that the contention of the Appellant that, the prohibition under Section 14(1)(a) of the IBC is applicable to Section 66 of the IBC, cannot be accepted because these two provisions are independent of each other and incorporated for different purposes. Section 14 of the IBC is intended to prevent claims by third parties to realize an amount from the corporate debtor by execution of orders, decrees etc., whereas Section 66 of the IBC is intended to prevent fraudulent trading or business by the corporate debtor. In view thereof, the NCLAT observed that Section 14(1)(a) and Section 66 of the IBC should be construed harmoniously in order to give effect to the intendment of the IBC and to make it workable.

Hence, the NCLAT arrived at the conclusion that the contention raised by the Appellant that during the course of moratorium, the NCLT shall not pass any order under Section 66 of the IBC, is not sustainable. The NCLAT further observed that Section 60(5)(a) of IBC permits the NCLT to pass any order on any application or proceeding by or against the corporate debtor or corporate person notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any other law for the time being in force.

Decision of the NCLAT

The NCLAT held that the impugned order dated December 13, 2021 passed by the NCLT deserves no interference and the appeal is liable to be dismissed.

VA View:

The NCLAT has rightly held that upon a harmonious construction of Section 14(1)(a), Section 60(5) and Section 66 of the IBC, it can be inferred that NCLT is not precluded from passing an appropriate order or direction under Section 66 of the IBC against a company undergoing CIRP since the protection of moratorium does not apply to an application filed before NCLT under Section 60(5) of the IBC with allegations of fraudulent transactions in terms of Section 66 of the IBC.

This judgment will provide much needed clarity in adjudication of many such applications pertaining to fraudulent avoidance transactions filed by the resolution professional or liquidator of a company against another company or its resolution professional or liquidator which other company is also undergoing the CIRP or liquidation process under the relevant provisions of the IBC.

For any query, please write to Mr. Bomi Daruwala at [email protected]

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