The Supreme Court Tuesday rejected Chanda Kochhar’s appeal against the Bombay High Court order which had dismissed her plea against her termination as the managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank, saying the issue falls within the realm of a private bank and employee.
”Sorry, we are not inclined to interfere with the high court order,” a bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said, adding, ”This fall within the realm of private bank and employee.”
The top court was hearing Kochhar’s appeal against the March 5 order of the high court which had dismissed her plea against termination as managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank, while noting that the dispute arises from a contract of personal service.
The high court had accepted the bank’s contention that Kochhar’s plea was not maintainable as the dispute was contractual and concerns a private body.
During the arguments before the apex court, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Kochhar, said the high court had dismissed her plea on the grounds of maintainability.
”I (Kochhar) was the MD of ICICI bank but bank recalled my earlier resignation and converted it into termination,” he said, adding, ”This was wrong as it was against the norms”. Rohatgi said that Kochhar’s resignation was changed into termination and there was no prior approval.
”The RBI was under obligation. You cannot convert resignation into termination. There is no question of termination as there was no previous approval as per the clause,” he said.
The bench observed, ”As far as we understand, it is the RBI who can raise issue with the bank. You were in service with a private bank. RBI has to deal with the bank saying that no approval was taken.”
Rohatgi said for certain class of employees, prior approval is needed. ”You show us a judgement which says that you have a role, then your writ petition will be maintainable,” the bench told Rohatgi.
After Rohatgi referred to some judgements, the bench said, ”RBI has given post-facto approval. You are saying there was no prior approval. You are saying that it is not the proper manner. Your whole grievance is against the private bank. There cannot be grievance with RBI.”
To this, Rohatgi said, ”No. My whole grievance is against the RBI”. He said if the RBI had not granted approval then Kochhar’s termination would have been nullified.
”What about my (Kochhar’s) reputation,” Rohatgi argued.
The bench observed, ”You can claim damages if your reputation is tarnished and if it was wrong.” Rohatgi said, everything cannot be damages and RBI can be asked to explain its approval as RBI has no jurisdiction to give post-facto approval.
Kochhar was terminated from the ICICI Bank months after she had voluntarily left the second largest private sector lender.
The former banker had moved the Bombay High Court on November 30, 2019, challenging the “termination” of her employment by the ICICI Bank.
She had contended before the high court that the bank also denied her remuneration and clawed back all the bonuses and stock options between April 2009 and March 2018, for her alleged role in granting out of turn loans to the Videocon Group which purportedly benefitted her husband Deepak Kochhar.
Her counsel had earlier argued in the high court that her termination came months after the bank approved her voluntary resignation on October 5, 2018 and therefore, the termination is “illegal, untenable and unsustainable in law”.
The ICICI Bank had then filed an affidavit, contending the reliefs in the petition are not maintainable and it deserves to be dismissed as ICICI is a private bank and is administered under the Companies Act, not the state or its agency.
On November 20, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had assured the apex court that it would not take any coercive action against Chanda Kochhar in a separate money laundering case.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had told the apex court that ED would not take any coercive step in pursuance of the enforcement case information report (ECIR) registered in the ICICI Bank-Videocon Group loan case. ECIR is equivalent to a police FIR.
The ED has recently filed a charge sheet against Chanda Kochhar, Deepak Kochhar and Videocon Group promoter Venugopal Dhoot on money laundering charges.
The Kochhars, Dhoot and others have denied the allegations.
ED has slapped money laundering charges against the Kochhars and their business entities for “illegal sanctioning of loans amounting to Rs 1,875 crore to the Videocon Group of companies”.