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IN A first, the Supreme Court has imposed a penalty of Rs 86 lakh on a businesswoman for failing to return to India from the UK despite her solemn promise.
Ringing alarm bells for litigants who fail to abide by their undertakings in court, the bench of Justices J S Khehar and Arun Mishra has also directed the Ministry of External Affairs to revoke Ritika Awasty’s passport and initiate appropriate diplomatic process to bring her back to face prosecution.
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“We are constrained to forfeit the deposit of Rs 86 lakh made by the petitioner in the Registry of this Court, solely for violation of the undertaking given by the petitioner to this court. It is clarified that the above amount shall not be used as a set-off, for any other claim that may have arisen or may arise against the petitioner,” the bench ordered last week.
The court said that the money, along with its accrued interest, will be forwarded to the Reserve Bank of India, and requested Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar to have the list of properties held by Awasty and her husband verified for further actions. Even the properties that Awasty and her husband “may have made over by way of gift” shall not remain immune from orders, the bench said.
The bench indicated that while Rs 86 lakh have been slapped as penalty for violating the undertaking, her other properties might be attached and auctioned to make good losses suffered by complainants who were allegedly duped.
The order also assumes importance as there are similar instances involving Kingfisher founder-owner Vijay Mallya and former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi, who have not returned to India to face judicial proceedings.
Ritika Awasty, a promoter of Bush Foods Overseas Pvt Ltd, had been named as an accused in a case registered in Uttar Pradesh under charges of cheating, forgery and criminal breach of trust. She moved the apex court after the Allahabad High Court refused to quash the FIR against her — not protecting her from arrest.
As a condition to let her out on bail till the disposal of her appeal, the top court in January asked Awasty to deposit as security Rs 86 lakh — the amount mentioned in FIR against her. The bench allowed her to travel to UK to look after her ailing husband and daughter. She gave an undertaking to come back by March 31. In April, the bench allowed her request for an extension of her stay in London. The court, however, clarified she must come back by May 31. She did not return and her lawyer, on various hearings, failed to state with certainty when she would return.