Says the Rs 25,000-crore wireless asset sale by the Anil Ambani company will be subject to its final order
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications to “maintain status quo” on the Rs 25,000-crore deal for sale of its wireless assets to Reliance Jio Infocomm (RJio), telecom arm of Reliance Industries. A bench, comprising justices AK Goel, RF Nariman and UU Lalit, while refusing to vacate the stay on the asset sale, ordered by an arbitral tribunal early this month, said the sale will be subject to its final order. While it posted the matter for further hearing on April 5, it asked all the parties to file their written submissions by March 28.
RCom wants to complete the deal, announced on December 28, to sell most of its spectrum, fibre, towers and switching nodes to RJio as it needs the money to repay lenders, failing which they may move the National Company Law Tribunal to initiate insolvency proceedings against the telco. While RCom owes Rs 42,000 crore to as many as 35 banks, the total outstanding to SBI as on February 28, 2018, is Rs 4,027 crore.
The bench is hearing a batch of petitions filed by the ADAG Reliance group and SBI against an arbitration tribunal interim order that stalled its efforts to complete the deal with RJio. RCom has also sought setting aside of the Bombay HC’s March 8 order that dismissed its appeal against the tribunal’s order that restrained it from sale or transfer of its assets without prior permission. The tribunal had passed the interim on a plea by Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson for recovery of `1,012 crore from RCom.
In another petition, the NCLT on March 12 had directed RCom not to sell its towers and fibre assets to RJio till further orders. The order was passed on a petition filed by HSBC Daisy Investments which has invested Rs 1,100 crore in Reliance Infratel. Some minority shareholders have also alleged oppression for not taking their consent for the asset sale.
State-run SBI, which led the arguments, told the SC that the deal is necessary for recovery of dues of secured lenders. “The value of the asset in consideration, i.e., spectrum is deteriorating by the day,” addition solicitor general Tushar Mehta said. Mehta along with senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for RCom, opposed the bench’s initial suggestion that the HC should decide the bank’s plea. It may be noted that SBI was not party to the case either before the arbitral tribunal or the HC.
SBI said that Ericsson being an unsecured creditor cannot lay claim over the assets, which are charged to the secured creditors, unless the entire dues of the secured creditors are paid, Mehta argued. Opposing SBI’s and RCom’s stand, senior counsel Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Ericsson, argued that “I can’t be remedyless as I have to recover my money.”