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Mis Sri Krishna Tiles and Potteries (Madras) Pvt. Ltd. Vs. the Company Law Board and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCompany
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberLetter Patent Appeal No. 52 of 1978
Judge
Reported inILR1979Delhi435
ActsCompanies Act, 1956 - Sections 389
AppellantMis Sri Krishna Tiles and Potteries (Madras) Pvt. Ltd.
RespondentThe Company Law Board and ors.
Advocates: J.L. Nain,; D.N. Mishra,; K.M. Sharma,;
Cases ReferredIn Raja Narayanlal Bansilal v. Maneck Phiroz Mistry and
Excerpt:
companies act (1956) - sections 10e & 399(4)--central board--nature of function--nature of enquiry--distinction between an application and petition.; facts : the company law board acting for the central government (respondent no. 2) under section 399(4) authorised a minority shareholder, arunachalam (respondent no. 3) to file an application under sections 397-398 against the appellant company. the writ petition impugning the authorisation was dismissed. hence this appeal.; as follows : (dismissing the appeal); (1) the nature of the functions of the company law board acting under sub-section (4a) of section 10e seems to be executive or administrative as distinguished from being quasi-judicial. this conclusion is reached on the following reasoning :; (i) sub-section (4a) contemplates..........c.j. (1) it is the distinction between the two kinds of functions or powers exercised by the central government under the companies act, 1956 (the act) that is material for the distinction we have to decide whether the authorisation given by the while others are quasi-judicial in their nature. in the light of this distinction we have to decide whether the authorisation given by the impugned order dated 13th april, 1977, by the company law board (respondent no. 1) acting for the central government (respondent no. 2) under section 399(4) of the act to shri a. m. p. arunachalam. (respondent no. 3), a member of the appellant petitioner-company, to make an application to the court (madras high court) against the company under sections 397-398 of the act was an executive act or a.....
Judgment:

V.S. Deshpande, C.J.

(1) It is the distinction between the two kinds of functions or powers exercised by the Central Government under the Companies Act, 1956 (the Act) that is material for the distinction we have to decide whether the authorisation given by the while others are quasi-judicial in their nature. In the light of this distinction we have to decide whether the authorisation given by the impugned order dated 13th April, 1977, by the Company Law Board (respondent No. 1) acting for the Central Government (respondent No. 2) under section 399(4) of the Act to Shri A. M. P. Arunachalam. (respondent No. 3), a member of the appellant petitioner-company, to make an application to the court (Madras High Court) against the company under sections 397-398 of the Act was an executive act or a quasi-judicial act.

(2) Respondent No. 3 is a member of the appellant petitioner-company holding less than I/I 0th of the issued share capital of the company. He applied to the Company Law Board for authorisation to file an application against the company under sections 397-398 of the Act By the impugned order thc authorisation was granted by the Board to respondent No. 3. The petitioner company felt aggrieved by the said authorisation and filed a writ petition seeking to quash the impugned order mainly on the ground that the grant of authorisation under section 399(4) of the Act by the Board to respondent No. 3 was a quasijudicial act.

(3) It was, thereforee, necessary that the Board should have heard the company before deciding whether the authorise respondent No. 3 or not. Secondly, the order being quasi-judicial should have been a speaking order giving reasons why the Government, thought it fit to authorise respondent No. 3. Since the company was not heard before the authorisation was given and since the order granting the authorisation docs not give reasons for doing so, the impugned order is illegal and void, according to the contention of the company. The writ petition was dismissed by Prakash Narain J. holding that the action under section 399(4) was administrative and not quasi-judicial. There was no obligation on the part of the Board to hear the company before the action was taken. If the authorisation is based on no material at all or not on relevant considerations, it is open to the company to challenge it on that ground and that this was a sufficient safeguard to ensure that the subjective decision is taken within the ambit of the power given under section 399(4). Hence this appeal.

(4) Shri J. L. Nain, learned counsel for the appellant, pressed the same contention before us. We may, 'therefore, consider his contentions under the following heads : 1. The nature of the function of the Board as the delegate of the Government under section 399(4) ; their nature while others are quasi-judicial. An analysis of the relevant provisions of the Act would help to demarcate these (wo kinds to powers. The Companies (Amendment) Act, 1953 inserted two different sets of provisions in the Companies Act, 19^6 : (1) In part I of the Act comprising sections 1 to 10 were inserted sections 10A to 10D. They empowered the Central Government to constitute a Tribunal to be chaired by a Judge or a retired Judge of a High Court to exercise and discharge (a) the powers and functions conferred on such Tribunal by or under the Act ; (b) all or any of the powers and functions conferred on the court by or under section 155, section 203 in so far as it relates to the granting of leave under that section, section 240, and sections 397 to 407, which the Central Government may, from time to time, by notification ill the official gazette, specify.

(5) Part I-A consisting of section 109 was inserted empowering the Central Government to constitute the Board of Company Law Administration to exercise and discharge such powers and functions conferred on the Central Government by or under the Act or any other law as may be delegated to it by that Government.

(6) The mere inclusion of sections 397 to 407 in section 10A(b) of the Act should not lead to any .hasty conclusion. It is only the powers and functions conferred on the court under those sections which were transferred to the Tribunal. Since no power or function was conferred on the court either under section 299(1) or section 399(4) the Company Tribunal was not to exercise any powers there under. These functions remained with the Central Government as before. While the Tribunal was in existence the Companies (Amendment) Act. 1965 added sub-sections (4A) to (4D) to section 109. A distinction was made between the executive and the quasi-judicial powers of the Central Government as follows : Under sub-section (4A) the Board, with the previous approval of the Central Government, may by order in writing authorise the Chairman or any of its other members or its principal officer (whether known as Secretary or by any other name) to exercise and discharge such of its powers and functi.ons as it may think fit. Accordingly, by notification No. 1/18/69 Admn. 1. dated 15th May, 1974. the Central Government approved the distribution of work between the Board, on the one hand, and its members on the other hand. All matters relating to the exercise or discharge of the powers and functions conferred by the Central Government on the Board in matters respecting action under section 397-398 arc to be performed by the Board. It would appear that the power of the Central Government under section 399(4) delegated to the Board of authorising a person to file a petition under sections 397-398 in the court is a power or a function conferred on the Board in a matter respecting action under sections 397-398.

(7) The nature of the functions of the Board acting under sub-section (4A) of section 109 seems to be executive or administrative as distinguished from being quasi-judicial, 'this conclusion is reached on the following reasoning. (i) Sub-section (4A) contemplates not only the Board and its members but also its principal officer, whether known as Secretary or by other name to exercise and discharge these functions. This is in contradistinction with the functions of the Central Government delegated to the Board under sub-section (4B). there under only the Board or its members but not the principal officer or Secretary is to be empowered to discharge those functions. Since the Secretary of the Board is only an executive or ministerial officer, the functions to be discharged by him under subsection (4A) would be executive or ministerial. On the other hand, the Board and its members, like the Central Government, have been delegated both the kinds of functions. It would appear that the functions performed under sub-section (4A) are executive because of the contrast of the functions performed under sub-section (4B). which, as will be shown later, may bs mostly quasi-judicial. (ii) While subsection (4A) talks only of the Board, subsection (4B) allows the Board to form Bend's. It is these Benches which are to perform the quasi-judicial functions. Sub-section (4C) expressly gives the powers of a civil court only to a Bench referred to in sub-section (4B).

(8) It thus excludes the Board functioning under subsection (4A) from the exercise of the powers of a civil court. This, more than anything else, brings out the distinction between the executive functions performed under subsection (4A) and the quasi-judicial functions performed under sub-section (4B). of civil court under sub-section (4C) and have also to be deemed to be a civil court for certain other purposes under sub-section (4D). Sub-sections (4B) to (4D) relating to the Benches clearly show that quasi-judicial powers arc to be exercised by the Benches there under. Those functions which are performed by the Benches arc thus invested with quasi-judicial character.

(9) It is significant that sub-section (5) of section 109 says that the procedure of the Company Law Board shall be such as may be prescribed. On the one hand, we have the procedure prescribed by the Companies (Central Government) General Rules and Forms, 1956. These Rules were made long before the Company Law Board was established. These Rules enabled the Central Government to discharge its executive functions or most of its functions as if they were executive or administrative. It is very significant that Rule 13 prescribes the procedure for an application to be made under section 399(4) by a member of a company who wishes to be authorised to apply to the court under sections 397-398. This function was of the Central Government and it has now come to the Board to be performed under subsection (4A) as distinguished from sub-sections (4B) to (4D). The function is, thereforee, executive or administrative. On the other hand are the Company Law Board (Bench) Rules. 1975. These arc framed in exercise of powers conferred by section 642 read with sub-section (4B) of section 109 of the Act. These arc, thereforee, essential for the discharge of quasi-judicial functions by the Benches. It is in these Rules that a distinction is made between an application and a petition. The applications are to commence an interlocutory proceeding, while the petitions arc made to commence proceedings which are not interlocutory proceedings. An interlocutory proceeding is a proceeding which takes place during the course of a legal action or proceeding. It is not, therelorc, the main proceeding but a subordinate proceeding. Respondent No. 3 made an application to the Board to seek the authorisation under section 399(4). This application showed respondent No. 3 as the applicant and the company and others as non-applicants in the same way that parties were shown in an application under sections 397-398. The question is whether this application was an interlocutory one or whether it was a petition initiating a substantive proceeding which is not interlocutory. If the main proceeding is to be taken to be the proceeding under sections 397-398 then the proceeding under section 399(4) may be regarded as interlocutory because it was only a small part of the process which forms the proceedings before the court under sections 397-398. The interlocutory part consists in the authorisation by the Central Government which is a condition precedent under section 399(4). From the other point of view the proceeding under section 399(4) in its cIC may be regarded as complete and not a part of the proceeding under sections 397-398, in that event, it would be regarded as a petition. So regarded, it would invite application of Rule 17 of the Bench Rules. Every application and every petition is required by Rule 17 to be served on the opposite party if named in the application or the petition as the case may be and on such other persons as the optima require. Shri Nain, learned counsel for the appellant, contended that the notice of the application made by respondent No. 3 to the Central Government was required to be given to the company under Rifle 17. This contention does not stand scrutiny. Firstly, the Bench Rules apply only to the functions of the Board performed under subsection (4B) of section 109 of the Act. We have already seen that the function under section 399(4) is performed by the Board under subsection (4A) of section 109. This is shown by the notification of 15th May, 1974, issued before the Bench Rules' were framed on 10th December, 1975. There is nothing to show that this function performed under sub-section (4A) of section 109 by virtue of the notification of 15th May, 1974 was subsequently transferred to be performed by the Board under sub-section (4B). It would follow that the Bench Rules of 1975 do not apply to the performance of these functions which was already performed by the Board under sub-section (4A) by virtue of the notification of 1974. The above analysis of the relevant provisions of the statute and the Rules, thereforee, shows that the function of the Central Government performed under section 399(4) is executive and not quasi-judicial.

(10) On principle also the nature of this function seems to be executive and not quasi-judicial. Firstly, there are no parties and there is no lis in a proceeding under section 399(4). It was contended by Shri Nain that the company must be regarded as the opposite party because it would be prejudiced by the making of the application by respondent No. 3 under sections 397-398. But the granting of authorisation by the Central Government under section 399(4) is similar to the granting of such authorisation by it under section 401. Thus even if a person docs not make an application under section 399(4) the Central Government can grant him the authorisation under section 401. Finally, the Central Government itself may make an application to the court under sections 397-398 by virtue of section 401. Reading section 399(4) with section 401 it would appear that it is the right of the Central Government either to make the application itself under sections 397-398 or cause such application to be made by authorising any other person to do so either under section 401 or under section 399(4). Secondly, the object of enacting section 399(4) was to give effect to the recommendation made in the report of the Company Law Committee, 1952. The said Committee took note of section 210 of the English Act which allowed any member to present a petition to the court against the company under provisions similar to sections 397-398 of our Companies Act. The Committee then advised that in this country this right which is freely exercisable in England should be restricted 'to discourage the presentation of frivolous petitions by one or more disgruntled shareholders'. This is why section 399(1) docs not allow a person holding less than 1/10th of the issued share capital to file such a petition, under sections 397-398 against the Company. This restriction is subject to the exception that under section 399(4) the Central Government may authorise such a person to apply under sections 397-398 even though he does not hold 1/10th of the issued share capital of the company. The creation of the right to file a petition under sections 397-398, the restriction placed upon it under section 399(1) and the removal of the said restriction under section 399(4) arc all the results of a statutory provision. It is well settled that if a statute confers' a right and in the same breath provides for a remedy for enforcement of such right the remedy provided by statute is an exclusive one (Premier Automobiles Ltd. v Kamalekar Shantaram Wadkc of Bombay and others, : (1975)IILLJ445SC and the English case law referred to therein). We cannot thereforee, treat that there is any common law right in the petitioner appellant-company not to be sued. In fact the continuous trend of development of law is to discourage immunity from being sued. immunity of those persons who could not formerly be sued has been whittled down. For instance, even a sovereign can be sued in respect of non-sovereign functions discharged by him or by a foreign sovereign Government. A contract between two persons by which one person is restrained from suing the other in a court of law would be void as being opposed to public policy. There is no principle, thereforee. to justify the argument that before respondent No. 3 files an application against the company under sections 397-398 on the authorisation granted by the Central Government, the company should be heard by the Central Government before granting the authorisation. 2. Nature of the Enquiry :

(11) What after all does the Central Government consider under section 399(4)? It docs not consider the merits of the case which a member may have against the company in making the petition under sections 397-398. The object and reason underlying sections 399(1) and 399(4) are that the Central Government should only have a preliminary look at the application proposed to be made by '.he member under sections 397-398, with a view to see if the application can be said to be a frivolous one by a disgruntled member. Very little scrutiny is required to know whether an application is a frivolities one. An application which has no merits would not necessarily be frivolous. Since the scrutiny by the Central Government does not Involve any finding about the merits of the case and since the frivolous nature of the application is not something which should be decided after hearing the parties, the nature of the enquiry need nut be quasi-judicial.

(12) In fact, it is well settled that no hearing is given to a person in a preliminary enquiry which is to lead to a regular enquiry or action against such a person during which a full hearing would be available to him. This conclusion was arrived at by a Division Bench of this court in G. S. Harnal v Union of India and others (1971) 2 Delhi 129(2), at 137, .relying upon Amalendu Ghosh v District Traffic Superintendent, North Eastern Railway, : (1960)IILLJ61SC , Champak Lal v. Union of India, : (1964)ILLJ752SC , State of U.P. v. Akbar Ali Khan, : (1967)ILLJ70SC , and Parry-Jones v. Law Society (1968) 2 Wlr 397.

(13) Subsequent decisions have confirmed this conclusion. In Wiscinan v. Borneman (1971) A.C. 297, a stal.uto.ry Tribunal was lo see if a prima facie case existed for the tax. authorities to take the assessec before the Tribunal which would determine whether the object of some transaction is tax avoidance. The Tribunal refused to allow the tax payer to be represented or sec evidence submitted to it by the tax authorities at the stage of preliminary consideration in as much as later during the regular proceeding the tax payer would have the opportunity to represent his case. A similar view was expressed by the House of lords in Peariberg v. Varty, (1972) 1 Wlr 534, and by the Privy Council in Furnell v. Whangarei High School Board (1973) A.C. 660. The latest decision was of the Court of Appeal in Norwest Hoist Ltd. v. D.T.L, reported in the Times of 2nd Feb- ruary, 1978(10). Under section 165 of the English Companies Act, 1948, corresponding to section 237 of our Companies Act, the Government has a discretion to appoint inspectors to investigate the affairs of the company. The Court of Appeal has always been concerned that this duty should not be elaborated so as to turn a basically inquisitorial procedure into an occupational one or so as to defeat the public interest in encouraging witnesses to be frank and in enabling the inspectors to complete their task as speedily as possible. The company's complaint was that it knew of no evidence of misconduct, that the appointment of the inspectors put the company's management under a cloud, and that thereforee, in accordance with the principles of natural justice, the department should not have appointed the inspectors without first giving the company an opportunity to make representations. The court of appeal held that this was not a situation where natural justice principles should be applied. Lord Denning M. R. in particular made explicit the policy reasons for not applying the principles : individual shareholders often in practice had little control over their company's affairs ; the directors were often 'a self-perpetuating hierarchy', the department's powers to appoint inspectors should be seen as a substitute for in-adequate shareholder control, and consequently the courts should not fetter investigations that 'might be the only machinery available for keeping the public interest intact and seeing that companies were properly conducted', even if this machinery might be 'slightly unfair' to individuals, (see Journal of British Business Law, April, 1978 page 180).

(14) Of course, an exception to the above rule may be made when the hearing and report of a judicial tribunal of enquiry set up to investigate an alleged public scandal attracts a great deal of publicity. In such a case it would be unfair to deny a person against whom damaging allegations may be made before the Tribunal the procedural protection accorded to a defendant in legal proceedings (S. A. dc Smith, Judicial Review of Administrative Action, Second Edition Page 219). But an application under sections 397-398 is resorted to in literally hundreds of cases by hundreds of members of hundreds of companies. It has become such an everyday occurrence that it cannot be argued that the possibility of the company being scandalised and the necessity of protecting the company from Using its reputation justifying the alerting of a hearing before an enquiry' into the scandal is allowed.

(15) In fact in Barium Chemicals Ltd. and another v. Company Law Board and others (1966) Supp. S.C.R. 311, at 371, Shetal J. in a majority judgment held that an investigation into the affairs of a company ordered under section 237 of the Companies Act is not an unreasonable interference with the right of the company to carry on its business guaranteed by Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution, even though the company would be put to inconvenience and its credit may be shaken by such an investigation. The reason is that such an investigation is essentially of an exploratory character. It is significant that the challenge to the investigation there was based on the ground that there was no material to support the order of investigation but no complaint was made that the company was not heard before the order was passed. The reason is that the company would be getting a hearing during the investigation itself and there was no need for it being heard even before the investigation. 3. The right or interest of the petitioner to a prior hearing :

(16) In Raja Narayanlal Bansilal v. Maneck Phiroz Mistry and anothers, : [1961]1SCR417 the Supreme Court made a distinction between the interest of the shareholders and the interest of persons in-charge of a management of a company. The interest of the company was identified with the interest of the shareholders. It was observed that 'where the financial interest of a large number of citizens is left in charge of persons who manage the affairs of the companies it would be legitimate to treat such companies and their managers as a class by themselves and to provide for necessary safeguards and checks against a possible abuse of power vesting in the managers.' Strictly speaking, thereforee, it is the managers and not the company itself who is seeking a prior hearing before a member is authorised under Section 399(4) to file a petition under sections 397-398. Since the very right of management is a result of the Companies Act, the right of a share-holder under the same Act to file a petition under sections 397-398 cannot be made subject to such restriction that even the authorisation by the Central Government cannot be granted to such a member under section 399(4) except after the company management is first heard.

(17) There arc several comparable statutory provisions under which powers are exercised without prior hearing being given to the person who would be affected by the proceeding under instituted thereafter. Under section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure the consent of the Advocate General is necessary before a suit can be filed in respect of the management of public charities. A Five-Judge Bench of the Kerala High Court in Mayor Simon Parur, v. Advocate-General of Kerala and others, : AIR1975Ker57 , held that granting consent under section 92 does not adversely affect anyone but refusing the consent would cause prejudice to the applicant. The question of the person against whom the suit is filed being heard before the consent is granted by the Advocate-General, thereforee, did not arise at all. Under section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Government has to take a decision whether an industrial dispute should be referred to adjudication or not. No hearing is granted before such a reference is made for adjudication for the simple reason that ample hearing would be available during the adjudication itself. Under section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a public servant or a Judge or a Magistrate cannot be prosecuted without a prior sanction of the Government concerned. But no hearing is given to the person to be prosecuted before during the investigation itself and there was no need for it being heard even before the investigation. 3. The right or interest of the petitioner to a prior hearing :

(18) In Raja Narayanlal Bansilal v. Maneck Phiroz Mistry and anothers, : [1961]1SCR417 , the Supreme Court made a distinction between the interest of the shareholders and the interest of persons in-charge of a management of a company. The interest of the company was identified with the interest of the shareholders. It was observed that 'where the financial interest of a large number of citizens is left in charge of persons who manage the affairs of the companies it would be legitimate to treat such companies and their managers as a class by themselves and to provide for necessary safeguards and checks against a possible abuse of power vesting in the managers.' Strictly speaking, thereforee, it is the managers and not the company itself who is seeking a prior hearing before a member is authorised under Section 399(4) to file a petition under sections 397-398. Since the very right of management is a result of the Companies Act, the right of a share-holder under the same Act to file a petition under sections 397-398 cannot be made subject to such restriction that even the authorisation by the Central Government cannot be granted to such a member under section 399(4) except after the company management is first heard.

(19) There arc several comparable statutory provisions under which powers are exercised without prior hearing being given to the person who would be affected by the proceeding under instituted thereafter. Under section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure the consent of the Advocate General is necessary before a suit can be filed in respect of the management of public charities. A Five-Judge Bench of the Kerala High Court in Mayor Simon Parur, v. Advocate-General of Kerala and others, : AIR1975Ker57 , held that granting consent under section 92 does not adversely affect anyone but refusing the consent would cause prejudice to the applicant. The question of the person against whom the suit is filed being heard before the consent is granted by the Advocate-General, thereforee, did not arise at all. Under section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Government has to take a decision whether an industrial dispute should be referred to adjudication or not. No hearing is granted before such a reference is made for adjudication for the simple reason that ample hearing would be available during the adjudication itself. Under section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a public servant or a Judge or a Magistrate cannot be prosecuted without a prior sanction of the Government concerned. But no hearing is given to the person to be prosecuted before A the sanction is given because such a person would have the fullest opportunity of showing cause against prosecution during the prosecution itself.

(20) Since the function of the Central Government or the Company Law Board under section 399(4) is not quasi-judicial and since no prior hearing is to be given to the company management or the company before the application under section 397-398 is authorised to be filed by a member holding less than I/I 0th of the issued share capital of the company, it would follow that the order of authorisation is also a purely executive order. It does not, thereforee, have to be supported by reason,s. Lord Denning, M. R. in the Norwest Hoist Ltd's. case (supra) rejected the contention that any reasons have to be given for appointing inspectors to investigate into the affairs of a company under section 165 of the English Act. This is inevitable in the nature of things. The application of the mind of the Central Government at that stage is only to see that the intended application under sections 397-398 is not frivolous. It hardly requires reasons to be given to support such a preliminary view of the application. In fact, at this p stage it would be undesirable that the Central Government or the Board should be required to give reasons for the authorisation. For, such reasons would needlessly pre-judge the merits of the case. It would rather be in the interest of the company or the company management that no observations on merits should be made by the Government or the Board at that stage.

(21) For the above reasons, the Letters Patent Appeal is dismissed with no order as to costs.


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