19 September 2019: Debt-laden McLeod Russel on Wednesday urged the Kolkata-bench of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) not to continue the interim order of “status quo” against its assets as it has very “serious repercussion” and negative “ramifications” for the operations of the bulk tea producer.
On September 3, the NCLT Kolkata bench passed an interim order of status quo of assets of the Kolkata-based company – once the biggest bulk tea producer in the world – as disclosed in the financial statement for the year ending March 31, 2019, till the next date of hearing.
The order was passed after one of the company’s financial creditors, Techno Electric & Engineering, apprehended disposal of the assets of the corporate debtor (McLeod) for defeating its interest.
Earlier, Techno Electric filed a petition for Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP) before the tribunal under Section 7 of the IBC against the tea maker after it had defaulted on repayments of Rs 100-crore loan. “The documents referred to us add strength to the apprehension on the side of the applicant that if an ad interim order is not passed, there is every chance of removal of the assets of the CD (corporate debtor) for defeating the very purpose of (CIRP) resolution if any passed in favour of the applicant,” a two-member bench of Justices Jinan KR and Harish Chander Suri observed while passing the interim order.
On Wednesday, in his submission before the bench, Joy Saha, the counsel for McLeod Russel, said: “My entire line of credit will dry up because of this order. I am not able to pay the wages to around 65,000 workers of our tea gardens. It will have a catastrophic effect on the operations of the respondent company and likely to cause unrest amongst the workers. So far, as the interim order of injunction is concerned, this has very serious repercussion.”
According to Saha, each of the assets over which Techno Electric has asked for injunction are already mortgaged in favour of the banks. Stating that banks were considering a restructuring of loans proposal, Saha said, “All the banks, in common words, have been chastising me because I have not been defended the claim of an unsecured creditor.”
According to the latest annual report of McLeod Russel, part of the Williamson Magor Group, its financial creditors are ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, State Bank of India, Yes Bank, RBL Bank, Axis Bank, Allahabad Bank, Uco Bank and United Bank of India.
The counsel for the tea company contended that the operational creditor now has taken the driver seat, while the banks, which are the the secured creditors and want to enter into loan restructuring agreement, are now “languishing in the background”.
“If an asset be mortgaged, can it be sold?” asked Saha, adding that as the assets were already mortgaged, the operational creditor would not need further protection from the tribunal. Saha urged the bench not to continue the interim order of ‘status quo’ against the company’s assets.
In his counter-argument, seeking continuation of status quo against McLeod’s assets, Techno Electric & Engineering’s counsel Ratnanko Banerjee said: “In one year, the corporate debtor sold Rs 500 crore worth of assets, even assets were mortgaged. For the purpose of the insolvency resolution process, their assets have to be preserved. I have expressed apprehensions that they will sell their assets, that is why the injunction is required.”
Banerjee allegedly said the Williamson Magor Group had siphoned off money from one group company to other group company. “This is a case for a forensic audit when the time comes,” he added.
Hearing the argument and counter argument, Justice Jinan KR said the bench was “only concerned” about whether the interim order required a ‘modification’ or not. “We are not going to confirm the order, we are not going to set aside the order,” he averred.