High profile corporate-legal cases involving politician-businessmen nexus stole the show in year 2017 in the Supreme Court, which dealt with sensitive issues of the Birla-Sahara diary on alleged payments to top politicians and absconders like liquor baron Vijay Mallya.
The PIL on Birla-Sahara diary, which witnessed high-voltage hearings, was trashed as the case based on “random materials” like loose sheets, papers, e-mail printouts was “meritless”, but Mallya had a hard luck in the apex court.
So was the case of real estate majors like Unitech, Jaypee, Supertech, Amrapali and Parsvnath against whom the top court acted tough giving middle class investors a much-needed confidence that their hard-earned money will be protected.
During the year, Mallya, who faced Rs 9,000 crore loan default and fled the country last year amidst trading of charges among political parties, was held guilty of contempt by the apex court for his failure to furnish details of all his assets to lending banks.
His case and those of some other businessmen, who never returned to the country after giving undertakings, came in the wake of some other business tycoons, who were named as accused in other cases, seeking permission to travel abroad.
Among other corporate czars who had a tough going in the top court was Subrata Roy Sahara as he battled throughout the year to meet the directives in connection with the refund of around Rs 40,000 crore to investors.
However, Roy, who was once a partner of Mallya in Formula one, had a better luck as he managed to keep himself away from jail from where he was released on parole in 2016 and survived several warnings from the top court where he failed to prevent auctioning of his prime property at Pune’s Aamby Valley.
The most politically prominent among the cases concerned Karti Chidambaram, son of former union finance minister and Congress leader P Chidamabaram, who had to toil hard to get the court’s nod to visit the United Kingdom for his daughter’s admission in the Cambridge university there.
Karti is facing a CBI probe into alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when P Chidambaram was the finance minister. He was finally allowed by the court to visit abroad.
Like the Mallya case involving default of bank loans, another such case arose from a long-standing PIL dealing with “bad loans” in which the apex court asked the Centre to give a list of “corporate entities” against whom outstanding loans were in excess of Rs 500 crore, besides the “empirical data” on recovery cases pending for last ten years in debt recovery tribunals (DRTs) and their appellate bodies.
Notwithstanding the developments relating to Birla-Sahara diary, Mallya, Karti and Sahara, the year gone by would be best remembered for the top court’s attempt to wipe the tears of thousands of homebuyers who were not handed over flats by erring builders despite paying hefty amounts from their hard-earned money.
Not only common citizens, even political heavyweight like union minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was left with no option but to knock the doors of the court over the issue of possession of his flat booked with Parsvnath Developers’ housing project.
Other real estate players like Unitech and its Managing Director Sanjay Chandra, Jaypee, Supertech and Amrapali also came under the radar of the apex court which passed thundering orders and made clear that it would protect the interest of homebuyers at any cost.
In a stern message to embattled realty firm Jaiprakash Associate Limited (JAL), the court directed its 13 directors not to alienate their personal properties. It also dealt with insolvency proceedings related to real estate firms.
Automobile sector also got a blow from the apex court which banned the sale and registration of vehicles which were not BS-IV compliant in India from April 1 last year.
Tackling air pollution also had its bearings on the firecracker industry when the court banned the sale of crackers in Delhi-national capital region (NCR) this Diwali. These orders, including a direction for ban on use of pet coke and furnace oil in states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, were passed keeping in mind the aspect of environment protection and air pollution in Delhi-NCR.
In the telecom sector, the Supreme Court dismissed pleas of telecom majors – Reliance Communication, Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular, challenging government’s 2015 spectrum auction, saying the decision was taken to maximise revenue and expand the service range.
Similarly, Malaysian business tycoon T Ananda Krishnan and other foreigners who have been evading court summons and warrants in the Aircel-Maxis deal case faced the heat when the top court restrained his Maxis Group from “selling or trading” the licences of 2G spectrum.
Other telecom major, Vodafone, got relief from the court which allowed it to initiate second arbitration against India and paved the way for appointment of the presiding arbitrator/chairman in connection with a tax demand of Rs 11,000 crore through a retrospective law of 2012.
One of the major verdicts concerning the telecom sector was delivered when the court asked the Centre to put in place an effective mechanism to scrutinise details of identity of over 100 crore existing and future mobile subscribers.
The court also paved the way for e-auction of the iconic five-star hotel in Delhi, Taj Mansingh, being run by Tata Group firm Indian Hotels Company (IHCL).
In the aviation sector, budget carrier SpiceJet lost a legal battle in the court which dismissed its appeal against the Delhi High Court verdict asking it to deposit Rs 579 crore in connection with a share transfer dispute with its previous owner Kalanithi Maran.
In an order concerning power distribution firms, the court said that firms like Adani Power Ltd and Tata Power Ltd cannot charge “compensatory tariff” from the consumers while setting aside the appellate tribunal’s judgement on this.