Right at the commencement of the hearing, Justice Hima Kohli revealed to counsel for all parties that she and her family members held shares in Reliance group, which is engaged in a bitter corporate fight with Amazon on taking over of Future’s retail business, and said she would recuse from adjudication of the issues raised by parties if they had any objection. However, with parties recording ‘no objection whatsoever’, the bench also comprising Justice A S Bopanna, continued with the hearing.
On September 9, the CJI-led bench had struck a balance between interests of Amazon and Reliance Industries, engaged in a high stakes litigation from Singapore to Delhi over Biyani groups ‘Future Retail’ by stalling the Delhi High Court proceedings over enforcement of Emergency Arbitrator’s interim award stalling RIL’s Rs 25,000 crore offer to take over Biyani’s retail chain.
If on one hand it had stopped enforcement of the Singapore based EA’s interim award being attempted to be enforced by Amazon through a petition in Delhi HC, on the other hand it restrained the statutory authorities – National Company Law Board, Competition Commission of India and market regulator SEBI – from giving any final approval to the RIL’s deal with Biyani group for taking over the retail chain, which went into red during the pandemic.
On October 23, the Singapore-based arbitrator, SIAC, had rejected Future Retail’s plea to lift the interim stay on its Rs 24,713-crore deal with Reliance Retail, giving a major relief to Amazon that is contesting the transaction. Six days later, The Delhi High Court had rejected a plea by Future Retail to stay a decision by a Singapore arbitration panel that has kept the sale of Future’s retail assets to Reliance Industries in limbo.
On Thursday, the CJI-led bench said that the matter has been rendered complicated by filing of numerous petitions, cross pleas and suits. However, it said that all issues raised by warring sides would be taken up together for hearing on November 17. The bench also refused to pass any order on a plea for allowing Future Group to proceed with preliminary steps for the approval of the deal with Reliance group. “If you do everything before the case is heard, what would remain for the court to decide,” the bench asked.
Amazon has 49% stake in Future Coupons, which in turn owns 9.82% shares in Future Retail. It was Amazon’s contention that Biyani group could not have entered into a deal with Reliance Industries without the approval of FCPL. Biyani group had said that it’s retail business had become zero during the pandemic and ran into serious debt. “Reliance is ready to pump in Rs 25,000 crore into the retail chain, retain all 25,000 employees and service the debts of the retail chain owning company,” it had said.