Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Company Law Board may compound the offence, permission of court not required.

Supreme Court held that Company Law Board does not need permission of court u/s 621A(7) of Companies Act 1956 for compounding of offence under the Companies Act, 1956 involving imprisonment or with fine or with both. Court has held that in such cases both Company Law Board and Court have power to compound the offence.

                                                                  REPORTABLE


                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                        CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                        CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2102 OF 2004


V.L.S. FINANCE LTD.                          …APPELLANT

                                   VERSUS

UNION OF INDIA & ORS.                       …RESPONDENTS



                                  JUDGMENT



CHANDRAMAULI KR. PRASAD,J.


      This appeal by special leave arises out  of  an  order  dated  5th  of
November, 2003 passed by the Company Judge,  Delhi  High  Court  in  Company
Appeal (B) No. 1 of 2001 whereby it has dismissed the appeal  assailing  the
order of the Company Law Board allowing the  compounding  of  offence  under
Section 211(7) of the Companies Act.

      Short facts giving rise to the present appeal are that  the  Registrar
of Companies, NCT of Delhi and Haryana laid complaint in the Court of  Chief
Metropolitan Magistrate, Tis Hazari, inter alia  alleging  that  during  the
course of inspection  it  was  noticed  in  the  balance  sheet  of  1995-96
Schedule of the fixed assets included land worth Rs. 21  crores.   According
to the complaint,      M/s. Sunair Hotels Ltd.,  for  short  ‘the  Company”,
had taken this land from New Delhi Municipal Corporation on licence and  the
Company only pays the yearly licence fee thereof.  Thus,  according  to  the
complainant, without any right land has been shown as land in  the  Schedule
of fixed assets, which is not a true and  fair  view  and  punishable  under
Section 211(7) of the Companies Act, hereinafter referred to as  “the  Act”.
The Company and its Chairman-cum-Managing Director, S.P. Gupta were  arrayed
as accused.


      However, before the court in seisin of the case could proceed with the
complaint,  the  Company  and  its  Managing  Director  jointly   filed   an
application before the Company Law Board for compounding the  offence.   The
Northern Region Bench of the Company Law Board, by its order  dated  9th  of
August, 2000 acceded to the prayer and compounded the  offence  against  the
Managing Director on payment of      Rs. 1000/- for each offence each  year.
 While doing so, the Company Law Board has held as follows:




           “…The exercise of powers by the Company Law Board under  621A(1)
           is independent of exercise of powers by  the  court  under  sub-
           section  (7)  and  all  offences  other  than  those  which  are
           punishable with imprisonment only or with imprisonment and  also
           fine, can  be  compounded  by  Company  Law  Board  without  any
           reference to sub-section (7), even in cases where prosecution is
           pending in a criminal court.  Thus, it is clear that Company Law
           Board if so approached can compound offences and in such case no
           prior permission of the Court is necessary.”






      Aggrieved by the same, appellant preferred Company Appeal  before  the
High Court, inter alia, contending that the power of  compounding  could  be
exercised by the criminal court and not by  the  Company  Law  Board.   Said
submission has not found favour and the Company Judge, in  this  connection,
observed as follows:




           “18. In the light of the aforesaid discussions, it is held  that
           the person seeking compounding of an offence in accordance  with
           the procedure laid down in the Criminal Procedure Code can do so
           before the criminal Court with the permission of the Court under
           sub-section (7) of Section  621A  of  the  Act,  which  normally
           cannot be done under the provisions of  the  Criminal  Procedure
           Code.  Such compounding of offence would always be relatable  to
           the offence punishable with imprisonment or with  fine  or  with
           both as is made clear under clauses (a) and (b)  of  sub-section
           (7).  Under the aforesaid  sub-section  the  offence  punishable
           with imprisonment or with fine or  both  shall  be  compoundable
           with the permission of the Court and for  such  compounding  the
           procedure laid down under the Criminal Procedure Code is  to  be
           followed in that regard provided the prosecution is  pending  in
           that Court.  I also hold the Company Law Board can  compound  an
           offence of the nature prescribed under  sub-section  (1)  either
           before the institution of the criminal proceeding or even  after
           institution of the criminal proceeding and the said power is not
           subject to the provisions of sub-section (7).  Both are parallel
           powers to be exercised by the prescribed  authorities  who  have
           been empowered under the statute and one power is not  dependent
           on the other……”




       Accordingly, the Company Judge dismissed the appeal.


      That is how the appellant is before us.


      We have heard Mr. R. Shankaranarayanan, for the  appellant,  Ms.  Binu
Tamta, for the respondent-Union of India  and  Mr.  Jayant  Bhushan,  Senior
Advocate for the Company and its Managing Director.


      It is an admitted position  that  the  allegations  made  exposed  the
accused to an offence punishable under Section 211(7) of the Act.  The  same
reads as under:

1 “211. Form and contents of balance-sheet and profit and loss account.—


2 xxx            xxx                    xxx

           (7) If any such person as is referred to in sub-section  (6)  of
           section 209  fails  to  take  all  reasonable  steps  to  secure
           compliance by the company, as respects any accounts laid  before
           the company in general meeting,  with  the  provisions  of  this
           section and with the other requirements of this Act  as  to  the
           matters to be stated in the accounts, he shall,  in  respect  of
           each offence, be punishable with imprisonment for a  term  which
           may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend  to  ten
           thousand rupees, or with both:
                 Provided that  in  any  proceedings  against  a  person  in
           respect of an offence under this section, it shall be a  defence
           to prove that a competent and reliable person was  charged  with
           the duty of seeing that the provisions of this section  and  the
           other requirements aforesaid were complied with  and  was  in  a
           position to discharge that duty:
                 Provided further that  no  person  shall  be  sentenced  to
           imprisonment for  any  such  offence  unless  it  was  committed
           wilfully.


                 xxx         xxx              xxx”




      Thus, the offence alleged is punishable with imprisonment for  a  term
which  may  extend  to  six  months  or  with  fine  which  may  extend   to
Rs. 10,000/- or with both.


      Mr. Shankaranarayanan has taken an extreme stand before this Court and
contends that the Company Law Board  has  no  jurisdiction  to  compound  an
offence punishable under  Section  211(7)  of  the  Act  as  the  punishment
provided  is  imprisonment  also.   Mr.  Bhushan,  however,   submits   that
imprisonment is not mandatory punishment under Section  211(7)  of  the  Act
and, hence, the Company Law Board has the authority to  compound  the  same.
He also points out that this submission was not at all advanced  before  the
Company Law Board and, therefore,  the  appellant  cannot  be  permitted  to
raise this question for the first time before this Court.   We  are  not  in
agreement with Mr. Bhushan in regard to his plea that this  question  cannot
be gone into by this Court at the first instance.   In  our  opinion,  in  a
case in which the facts pleaded give rise to a pure question  of  law  going
to the root of the matter, this Court possesses discretion to go into  that.
 The position would have been different had  the  appellant  for  the  first
time prayed before this Court for adjudication on an issue of fact and  then
to apply the law and hold that Company Law  Board  had  no  jurisdiction  to
compound the offence.


      Here, it is an admitted position that the allegation made exposed  the
Company and its Managing Director for punishment  under  Section  211(7)  of
the Act which provides for imprisonment or fine or with both.  In  the  face
of the same, no fact needs to be adjudicated and  the  point  being  a  pure
question of law going to the root of the matter, same can  be  permitted  to
be raised before this Court for the first time.  But that does not help  the
appellant as we are inclined to accept the  submission  of  Mr.  Bhushan  on
merit.  Section 621A was inserted by the Companies Amendment  Act,  1988  on
the recommendation of the Sachar Committee.  It was felt  that  leniency  is
required in the administration of the provisions  of  the  Act  particularly
penalty provisions because a large  number  of  defaults  are  of  technical
nature and arise out of ignorance on account of  bewildering  complexity  of
the provisions.  Section 621A of the Act; as stood at the relevant time  and
relevant for our purpose reads as follows:


           “621A. Composition of  certain  offences.-  (1)  Notwithstanding
           anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of
           1974), any offence punishable under this Act  whether  committed
           by a company or  any  officer  thereof,  not  being  an  offence
           punishable with imprisonment only, or with imprisonment and also
           with fine, may, either before or after the  institution  of  any
           prosecution, be compounded by-

                 (a) the Company Law Board; or


                 (b) where the maximum amount of fine which may  be  imposed
                 for such offence does not exceed five thousand  rupees,  by
                 the Regional Director, on payment or credit, by the company
                 or the  officer,  as  the  case  may  be,  to  the  Central
                 Government of such  sum  as  that  Board  or  the  Regional
                 Director, as the case may be, may specify:


                       Provided that the sum so specified shall not, in  any
                 case, exceed the maximum amount of the fine  which  may  be
                 imposed for the offence so compounded:


                       Provided further that in specifying the sum  required
                 to be paid or credited for the compounding  of  an  offence
                 under this sub-section, the sum, if any,  paid  by  way  of
                 additional fee under Sub-section (2) of Section  611  shall
                 be taken into account.


                       xx          xx         xx


           (4)(a) Every application for the compounding of an offence shall
                 be made to  the  Registrar  who  shall  forward  the  same,
                 together with his comments  thereon,  to  the  Company  Law
                 Board or the Regional Director, as the case may be.


                 (b) Where any offence is  compounded  under  this  section,
                 whether before or after the institution of any prosecution,
                 an intimation thereof shall be given by the company to  the
                 Registrar within seven days from  the  date  on  which  the
                 offence is so compounded.


                 (c) Where any offence is compounded before the  institution
                 of any prosecution, no prosecution shall be  instituted  in
                 relation to such offence, either by the Registrar or by any
                 shareholder of the company or by any person  authorised  by
                 the Central Government against the offender in relation  to
                 whom the offence is so compounded.


                 (d) Where the composition of any offence is made after  the
                 institution of any prosecution, such composition  shall  be
                 brought by the Registrar in writing, to the notice  of  the
                 Court in which the  prosecution  is  pending  and  on  such
                 notice of the composition of the offence being  given,  the
                 company or its officer in relation to whom the  offence  is
                 so compounded shall be discharged.

                       xx         xx         xx
            (7) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of  Criminal
           Procedure, 1973,-

                 (a) any offence which is punishable  under  this  Act  with
                 imprisonment  or  with  fine,  or  with  both,   shall   be
                 compoundable  with  the  permission  of   the   Court,   in
                 accordance with the procedure laid down  in  that  Act  for
                 compounding of offences;


                 (b) any offence which is punishable  under  this  Act  with
                 imprisonment only or with imprisonment and also  with  fine
                 shall not be compoundable.

           (8) No offence specified in this  section  shall  be  compounded
           except under and in  accordance  with  the  provisions  of  this
           section.”


      From a plain reading of Section 621A(1) it is evident that any offence
punishable under the Act, not being an offence punishable with  imprisonment
only or with imprisonment and also  with  fine,  may  be  compounded  either
before or after the institution of the prosecution by the Company Law  Board
and in case, the minimum amount of  fine  which  may  be  imposed  for  such
offence does not exceed   Rs. 5000/-, by the Regional  Director  on  payment
of certain fine.  The penal provisions of  the  Act  provide  for  different
kinds of punishments for variety of  offences  and  can  be  categorised  as
follows:


           i) offences punishable with fine only,


      (ii) offences punishable with imprisonment only,


          ii) offences punishable with fine and imprisonment,

      (iv) offences punishable with fine or imprisonment,


      (v) offences punishable with fine or imprisonment or both.




      Section 211(7) of the Act provides for  punishment  with  imprisonment
for a term which may extend to  six  months  or  with  fine  or  with  both.
Therefore, an accused charged with the offence under Section 211(7)  of  the
Act has not necessarily to be visited with imprisonment or imprisonment  and
also fine but can be let off by imposition of  fine  only.   Therefore,  the
punishment provided under Section 211(7) of the  Act  comes  under  category
(v) aforesaid.  Section 621A(1) excludes such offences which are  punishable
with imprisonment only or with imprisonment and also with fine.  As we  have
observed above, the nature  of  offence  for  which  the  accused  has  been
charged necessarily does not  invite imprisonment or imprisonment  and  also
fine.  Hence, we are of the opinion that the nature of the offence  is  such
that it was possible to be compounded by the Company Law Board.


      Mr. Shankaranarayanan, then submits that sub-section  (7)  of  Section
621A confers jurisdiction on the court to accord permission for  compounding
of the offence punishable with imprisonment or with fine or with  both,  the
jurisdiction of the Company  Law  Board  is  excluded  and,  therefore,  the
Company Law Board erred in acceding  to  the  request  of  the  accused  for
compounding of the offence.          Sub-section (1)  of  Section  621A  and
sub-section (7) thereof are differently worded but on  their  close  reading
it is evident that both cover such offences depending  upon  the  nature  of
punishment.          Sub-section  (1)  of  Section  621A  excludes   offence
punishable with imprisonment only or with imprisonment  and  also  fine  and
includes  the  residue  offences  which  will  obviously   include   offence
punishable with imprisonment or with fine or with both  whereas  sub-section
(7) specifically include those and excludes, like sub-section (1),  offences
punishable with imprisonment  only  or  with  imprisonment  and  also  fine.
Therefore, both cover similar nature of  offences.   Hence,  the  power  for
compounding can be exercised in relation to the same nature of  offences  by
the Company Law Board or  the  court  in  seisin  of  the  matter  with  the
difference that the Company Law Board can proceed to compound  such  offence
either before  or  after  the  institution  of  any  prosecution.   In  this
connection, it shall be relevant to refer to Section 621A(4)b) of  the  Act,
which provides that where any offence  is  compounded  under  this  section,
whether before or after the institution of any  prosecution,  an  intimation
thereof shall be given by the Company to the Registrar within  7  days  from
the date on which the offence is  compounded.   Section  621A(4)d)  mandates
that where the composition of any offence is made after the  institution  of
any prosecution, such composition would  be  brought  by  the  Registrar  in
writing to the notice of the court in which the prosecution is  pending  and
on such notice of the composition of the offence being  given,  the  accused
in relation to whom the offence is so compounded shall be discharged.




      From the conspectus of what we have observed above, it  is  more  than
clear that an offence committed by an accused under the Act,  not  being  an
offence punishable with imprisonment only  or  imprisonment  and  also  with
fine, is permissible to be  compounded  by  the  Company  Law  Board  either
before or after the institution of any prosecution.  In view of  sub-section
(7) of Section 621A, the criminal court  also  possesses  similar  power  to
compound an offence after institution of the prosecution.


      Now the question is whether in the aforesaid circumstances the Company
Law Board can compound offence punishable with fine or imprisonment or  both
without  permission  of  the  court.   It  is  pointed  out  that  when  the
prosecution has been laid, it is the criminal court which is  in  seisin  of
the matter and it is only the magistrate or  the  court  in  seisin  of  the
matter who can accord permission to compound the offence.  In  any  view  of
the matter, according to the learned counsel, the Company Law Board  has  to
seek permission of the court and it  cannot  compound  the  offence  without
such permission.  This line of reasoning does not  commend  us.   Both  sub-
section (1) and sub-section (7) of Section 621A of  the  Act  start  with  a
non-obstante clause.  As is well  known,  a         non-obstante  clause  is
used as a legislative device to give the enacting part of  the  section,  in
case of conflict, an overriding  effect  over  the  provisions  of  the  Act
mentioned in the non-obstante clause.


      Ordinarily, the offence is compounded under the provisions of the Code
of Criminal Procedure and the power to accord  permission  is  conferred  on
the  court  excepting  those  offences  for  which  the  permission  is  not
required.  However, in  view  of  the  non-obstante  clause,  the  power  of
composition can be exercised by the court or the  Company  Law  Board.   The
legislature has conferred the same power to the Company Law Board which  can
exercise  its  power  either  before  or  after  the  institution   of   any
prosecution whereas the criminal court has no  power  to  accord  permission
for composition of an offence before  the  institution  of  the  proceeding.
The legislature in its wisdom has not put the rider of prior  permission  of
the court before compounding the offence by the Company Law  Board   and  in
case the contention of the appellant  is  accepted,  same  would  amount  to
addition of the words “with the prior permission of the court” in  the  Act,
which is not permissible.


      As is well settled, while interpreting the provisions  of  a  statute,
the court avoids rejection or addition of words and resort to that  only  in
exceptional circumstances to achieve the purpose of Act or  give  purposeful
meaning.  It is also a cardinal rule of interpretation that  words,  phrases
and sentences are to be given their natural, plain and clear meaning.   When
the language is  clear  and  unambiguous,  it  must  be  interpreted  in  an
ordinary sense and no addition or alteration of  the  words  or  expressions
used is permissible.  As  observed  earlier,  the  aforesaid  enactment  was
brought in view of the need of leniency in the  administration  of  the  Act
because a large  number  of  defaults  are  of  technical  nature  and  many
defaults occurred because of the complex nature of the provision.


      From what we have observed above, we are of the opinion that the power
under sub-section (1) and sub-section  (7)  of  Section  621A  are  parallel
powers to  be  exercised  by  the  Company  Law  Board  or  the  authorities
mentioned therein and  prior  permission  of  Court  is  not  necessary  for
compounding the offence, when power  of  compounding  is  exercised  by  the
Company Law Board. In view  of  what  we  have  observed  above,  the  order
impugned does not require any interference by this Court.






      In the result, we do not find any  merit  in  the  appeal  and  it  is
dismissed accordingly but without any order as to costs.


                                  ………………………………………………………………J
                                                             (CHANDRAMAULI
                                  KR. PRASAD)






                                                    ………..……….………………………………..J
                                       (V.GOPALA GOWDA)





NEW DELHI,
MAY 10, 2013.
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