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Freewheels (P) Ltd., New Delhi Vs. Veda Mittra and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCompany
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberLetter Patent Appeal No. 56 of 1968
Judge
Reported inAIR1969Delhi258; [1969]39CompCas1(Delhi); ILR1969Delhi27
ActsCompanies Act, 1956 - Sections 81, 125, 212, 212(5), 214, 318, 338, 441, 442, 443, 456(1-A), 531 and 536(2)
AppellantFreewheels (P) Ltd., New Delhi
RespondentVeda Mittra and anr.
Advocates: S.V. Gupta,; V.S. Bhatnagar,; Rameshwar Nath,;
Cases ReferredApthorpe vs. Peter Schoenhofen Brewing Co.
Excerpt:
..... in share-capital of the subsidiary company nor can the latter be treated as an asset of the holding company.; that the intention of the legislature as to the main object of the winding up is the preservation of the property and fair and part passit distribution thereof amongst its creditors and accordingly companies act confers wide powers on the court to make such orders under section 443 as may be necessary for the preservation of the assets and in aid of the final orders that may be made. the court has, thereforee, power to pass interim orders necessary for the prtoection of assets of the company against persons who are nto parties to the proceedings, though the rules of natural justice would require such persons to be heard. ; that basically the fundamental concept of law is..........made in the winding up proceedings for appointment of a provisional liquidator, the learned single judge appointed administrators to safeguard the interests of the unsecured creditors. the holding company holds 52 per cent. equity capital in free wheel (india) limited (hereafter referred to as the 'subsidiary company'. h. p. bhatnagar was, at the time of passing the resolution to issue further capital, the managing director of the holding company as also of the subsidiary company. some of the directors of btoh the companies were also common.(2) the subsidiary company is admittedly a prosperous concern, and the holding company are the selling agents of the products of the subsidiary company. this selling agency admittedly yields good profits to the holding company. on 22nd july,.....
Judgment:

S.K. Kapur, J.

(1) This Letters Patent Appeal is directed against the order of my learned brtoher S. N. Andley, J. dated 26/8/1968 whereby he confirmed the adinterim injunction restraining Free Wheel (India) Limited, a subsidiary company of Globe Mtoors Limited, from giving effect to a resolution passed by the subsidiary company on 22-7-1968 for raising further capital. A petition for winding up against Globe Mtoors Limited (hereafter referred to as the 'holding company') has already been admitted by this Court and is pending. Upon a petition made in the winding up proceedings for appointment of a provisional liquidator, the learned Single Judge appointed administrators to safeguard the interests of the unsecured creditors. The holding company holds 52 per cent. equity capital in Free Wheel (India) Limited (hereafter referred to as the 'subsidiary company'. H. P. Bhatnagar was, at the time of passing the resolution to issue further capital, the Managing Director of the holding company as also of the subsidiary company. Some of the Directors of btoh the companies were also common.

(2) The subsidiary company is admittedly a prosperous concern, and the holding company are the selling agents of the products of the subsidiary company. This selling agency admittedly yields good profits to the holding company. On 22nd July, 1968, the subsidiary company by a resolution of the Board of Directors, decided to issue a further capital, of Rs. 3,00,000.00- and to offer the same, in accordance with section 81, to the holders of equity shares in the subsidiary company. If the holding company were in a position to subscribe to the additional capital issued, they would retain their majority of 52 per cent. as under section 81 the shares have to be offered to the existing equity shareholders in proportion, as nearly as the circumstances admit, to the capital paid up on their shares. A communication was accordingly addressed by a letter, dated 24/7/1968 by the subsidiary company to the holding company offering to the latter 1568 equity shares out of the fresh issue. The petitioner, by the application on which the learned Single Judge issued the injunction order, contended that the issue of fresh capital had been made mala fide and with a view to depriving the holding company of its right to control the subsidiary company and thereby of a valuable asset. He, thereforee, prayed that the subsidiary company be restrained from giving effect to the resolution raising further capital. On behalf of the subsidiary company, which was represented before the learned Single Judge, it was said that the subsidiary company nto being a party to the winding up proceedings the Court had no jurisdiction to restrain the subsidiary company from issuing further capital; that the issue of further capital was necessary to meet the immediate needs of the subsidiary company; that the subsidiary company had to make arrangement for payment to the extent of Rs. 21,00,000.00; and if they were restrained from raising further capital they will get into serious difficulties; that the holding company was primarly responsible for burdening the subsidiary company with some of its liabilities; and that the strain caused by the holding company had necessitated the issue of further capital. The learned Single Judge had recourse to sections 212, 214, 318 and 338 in coming to the conclusion that a subsidiary company is a part of the property or asset of the holding company, and that consequently the Court had jurisdiction to restrain the subsidiary company from doing any act likely to result in diminishing the property or asset of the holding company. The learned Single Judge also held that the subsidiary company, being a property of the holding company, was as much a party to the winding up proceedings and as much subject to the jurisdiction of this Court as the holding company itself. The Subsidiary Company has preferred this appeal challenging the said order of the learned Single Judge.

(3) Mr. S. V. Gupte, the learned counsel for the appellant, mainly emphasised two arguments. He said:-

(1)The Cour,t had no jurisdiction to pass an injunction order against the subsidiary company which was nto a party to the winding up proceedings. He, however, did nto dispute that the subsidiary company appeared in the injunction matter and argued the same; and

(2)even if the Court had jurisdiction to pass an order it was nto an appropriate case for grant of injunction because:

(A)the working of the subsidiary company could nto be jeopardised and its expansion could nto be hampered because of the financial difficulties in which the holding company had landed; and

(B)the only ground for stay pressed by the petitioner in the stay matter was the inability of the holding company to subscribe to the capital which was nto a valid ground for issue of an injunction.

So far as the power of the Court to grant an injunction in such circumstances against a person nto a party to the winding up proceedings is concerned, the matter has to be decided in the light of the scope and amplitude of section 443 of the Companies Act.

(4) The said section provides that :

'ONhearing a winding up petition the Court may- (a).................. (b) .................. (c) make any interim order that it thinks fit'.

(5) That main object of the winding up of a company' is to prtoect its assets and the interest of its creditors and or shareholders. It is for this reason that power has been given under section 456 to the liquidator or the provisional liquidator to secure the custody or control of property, effects or actionable claims to which the company is or appears to be entitled through, inter alict, the District Magistrate within whose jurisdiction such property etc. may be situate. Under section 442 the Court may, at any time after the presentation of a winding up petition and before a winding up order has been made, stay any proceedings pending against the company. Section 441 fictionally fixes the date of commencement of winding up as the date of presentation of the petition and, thereforee, once an order for winding up is passed it is deemed to have been passed on the day the petition was presented. This is, of course, subject to certain exceptions embodied expressed or impliedly in some of the provisions of the Act. Section 531 prescribes the effect of winding up on antecedent and toher transactions, and renders certain transactions entered into six months before the commencement of the winding up invalid on the ground of fraudulent preference of creditors. The object of this provision also is to prtoect the assets of the company and provide a safeguard against their being frittered away in anticipation of a winding up order being made. Similarly, section 536 declares any disposition of the property of the company after the commencement of the winding up, that is, the date of the presentation of the winding up petition, void unless toherwise ordered by the Court. This provision is also directed to prevent dissipation of the property and assets toherwise available for distribution amongst the creditor of the company in winding up. Section 125 renders certain charges created by the company on company's property or undertaking void against liquidator unless regisered with the Registrar within the prescribed period. These and toher provisions of the Companies Act provide a strong indication of the intention of the Lagislature as to the main object of winding up, namely, the preservation of property and fair and pari passu distribution thereof amongst its creditors. The Court has also power to appoint a provisional liquidator which will also necessarily affect the rights and interests of various parties which may nto be parties as such to the winding up proceedings. From this, it appears that the Companies Act confers wide powers on the Court to make such orders under section 443 as may be necessary for the preservation of assets and in aid of the final order that may be made. Whether or nto an injunction should be granted must necessarily depend on the facts of each case, but it seems difficult to deny the power to the Court to pass interim orders necessary for the prtoection of assets against persons who are nto parties to the proceedings. The rule of natural justice may then require such persons to be heard, but that rule has admittedly been satisfied in this case.

(6) Mr. P. N. Lekhi and Mr. K. K. Jain, the learned counsels for the respondents, contended that if I tear as under the corporate veil of the subsidiary-company it will lead me to an inescapable conclusion that the subsidiary company is, in fact, nto a separate entity but merely an agent or trustee of the holding company, so that the assets of the subsidiary company are really the assets of the holding company. The learned counsel contended that the development and growth of corporations and the necessity of striking a balance between the theory of indoor management by the corporations and the public gaze and control in the corporate sector had led the courts to tear the veil woven by Salomon vs. Salomon and Co., (1897) A. C. 22 and the present day tendency of the courts is to peep deeper into the matter to find out whether or nto the subsidiary company is, in fact a separate legal entity. It is true that Salomon's case has, in certain spheres of commercial enterprise suffered a demise at the hands of Legislature and the Companies Act has made various provisions qualifiing the rule that each company constitutes a separate legal entity. The most striking examples of such qualifications lie in the provisions relating to accounts, which provisions have been designed primarily to give better information of the accounts and financial position of the group as a whole to the creditors, shareholders and the public. The learned Single Judge has dealt with those provisions, and it is nto necessary to very much elaborate on the same. Section 212 inter alias requires each holding company attach to its balance sheet a copy of the blance-sheet and profit and loss accounts of the subsidiary company, copies of the reports of the subsidiary company Board of Directors and Auditors, and a statement of the holding company's interest in the subsidiary company. The said provision enjoins the holding company to disclose diverse toher informations with its balance sheet. Sub- Section (5) of the section 212 deals with a situation where the financial year of a subsidiary company does nto coincide with the financial year of the holding company and requires the disclosure of information regarding changes in holding company's interest in the subsidiary company between the end of the financial year of the subsidiary and the end of the holding company's financial year, and details of any material changes which may have occurred between the end of the financial year of the subsidiary and the end of the holding company's financial year in respect of the subsidiary's fixed assets, its investments, the moneys lent by it, and the moneys borrowed by it. Towards the same end are directed the provisions of section 214. Section 31 deprives a director of the holding company of his rights to compensation for loss of office if he has been guilty of fraud etc. in the conduct of the affairs of the subsidiary company. Similarly, company may by a special resolution remove its managing agent from office for gross negligence in or for gross mismanagement of the affairs of the subsidiary company (Section 338). These provisions inter alias indicate the leaning of the Legislature to treat all companies within a group as part of the same entity as against the arbitrary unit-wise distinction of each company. To that extent, it will nto be incorrect to say, as suggested by the learned counsel for the respondents, that the Legislature has itself rent the veil of prtoection thrown round corporations by the house of Lords in Salomon's case. There are, however, limitations to rending the veil, and the Court will nto do so except for specific purposes and when compelled by the clear words of the statute. The Law Reports abound with decisions showing the tendency of the different Courts to tear the veil in varying circumstances. For instance, in Apthorpe vs. Peter Schoenhofen Brewing Co. (1889) 4 T. C. 41 the finding of fact arrived at by the Commissioners that the property ostensibly in the name of the New York Company was, in fact, that of the English Company liable to English income-tax on the ground that the business was being carried on partly in London was upheld. Again, in some cases the Courts have come to the conclusion that the subsidiary company was merely an agent of the holding company. It may nto be possible to put in a strait jacket of judicial definition as to when the subsidiary Company can really be treated as a branch, or an agent, or a trustee of the holding company. Each case must necessarily turn on its own facts. Circumstances, such as, the profits of the subsidiary company being treated as those of the parent company, the control and conduct of business of the subsidiary company resting completely in the nominees of the holding company, and the brain behind the trade of the subsidiary company being really the holding company, may indicate that in fact the subsidiary company is only a branch of the holding company. Basically, however, the fundamental concept must always to kept in view that each company is a distinct legal entity. Again the purpose for which the veil has to be rent must be kept in view, and the doctrine of the tearing of the veil cannto be blindly extended to each and every purpose. It is unnecessary to elaborate on this aspect any more, as here the parent company holds only a nominal majority in the share capital of the subsidiary, which holding is 52 per cent. With that meagre majority alone I am nto prepared to hold, even if it were possible to do so for such a purpose, that the subsidiary company has lost its indentity as a separate legal entity. Mr. Lekhi went to the extent of saying that nto only for this purpose but in all cases a subsidiary company must be treated as an asset of the holding company. This contention is beyond the reach of sustained argument. I am, in the circumstances, of the opinion that the subsidiary company has neither lost its identity nor merged itself into a group consisting of the parent company and the subsidiary company. If Mr. Lekhi's argument were to be accepted then each subsidiary company will, crack nto only under the pressure of its own uncongenial shareholders, which may invariably exist in every company, but also of the pressure of the shareholders and creditors of the holding company.

(7) Mr. Jain, the learned counsel for respondent No. 2, raised antoher argument that if the holding company is compeller to surrender its controlling interest the block of shares held by it will lose much of its value, as a block capable of passing the control of a subsidiary company will always fetch a better price and, thereforee, the interest of the creditors of the parent company will be considerably jeopardised. If this argument is taken to its logical conclusion, then it may mean that even in the case of companies toher than the subsidiary companies a creditor or a shareholder of a company holding a large block of shares in antoher company may raise a grievance that the management by particular individuals of the toher company will considerably reduce the value of the block of shares. Even if I were to accept that the controlling block of shares will fetch better price, it does nto entitle me to hold up the working of the subsidiary company merely because the holding company is under a financial strain. No doubt, the subsidiary company has sought to raise a capital of Rs. 3,00.00 only, and admittedly their needs extend to over Rs. 20,00,000. But what actually they need immediately is for them to decide, and the Courts will nto probe into such matters and interfere with the indoor management of the companies.

(8) For the foregoing reasons, I am nto in agreement with the findings of the learned Single Judge that the subsidiary company was really an asset of the holding company. In the view that the learned Single Judge took that the subsidiary company was really a property of the holding company, his Lordship did nto consider it advisable to give any definite finding as to whether or nto the proposed issue of further capital was inspired by the Directors of the holding company and was collusive or malafide, being merely an attempt to get out of the control of the holding company. If the issue of further capital is nto bona fide but is malafide, different considerations may prevail.

(9) In these circumstances, I set aside the order of the learned Single Judge and allow the appeal. The matter will, however, go back to the learned Single Judge for deciding whether or nto the issue of share capital is malafide and, if so, that what is its effect.

T.V.R. Tatachari, J.

(10) I agree In the circumstances, the parties will bear their own costs.


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