Sell Sahara properties to repay investors: Supreme Court to SEBI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday paved the way for the markets regulator SEBI to sell some 86 properties of Subrata Roy-led Sahara group, worth an estimated Rs.40,000 crore, giving hope to tens of thousands of investors who put their money in its various schemes.

The directions from the bench of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, Justice Anil R. Dave and Justice A.K. Sikri came after it found that Sahara group was yet to mobilise the Rs.10,000 crore towards the bail amount to secure the release of Subrata Roy, who is lodged in Tihar Jail since March 2014.

"Start working on that. You are now free to go ahead," the bench told the watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). As regards Roy, the bench firmly said: "The only way he can come out is by complying with our orders."

Two other directors of Sahara -- Ravi Shankar Dubey and Ashok Roy Choudhary -- are also in jail.

The Sahara group is said to originally owe around Rs.24,000 crore to investors. The apex court by its August 31, 2012, order had directed Sahara to return the money with 15 percent interest. Counsel for the watchdog had estimated the dues to be worth around Rs.36,000 crore last month.

The apex court said the entire process of sale of Sahara properties will be overseen by former Supreme Court judge Justice B.N. Agarwala and that the Sahara group will be kept informed on the steps being taken for the disposal of the properies.

No property shall be sold below 90 percent of its prevailing circle rates, the bench said. Also, no deadline has been fixed to complete the process. Sahara has already furnished the title deeds of the 86 properties to facilitate the sale.

Noting that the market regulator had 20 unencumbered title deeds thus far worth Rs.20,000 crore, the court asked the Sahara group to furnish other unencumbered title deeds of another Rs.20,000 crore.

The step is being taken to recover money that Sahara's two firms had collected from the public by way of optionally fully convertible debentures. The SEBI has been directed to appoint an agency to decide the mechanism for the sale of properties.

The two companies are: Sahara India Real Estate and Sahara Housing Investment Corp.

During the hearing, Kapil Sibal, representing Sahara, said: "Nowhere in the world does this type of case happen. There is no jurisdiction in the world that allows a person to be inside jail for two years without any charge."

The judges did not take kindly to the retort. "Don't lecture us. Don't give us a speech. Nowhere in the world does a person say that I have assets worth Rs.187,000 crore. I can pay anytime. But is not paying even Rs.10,000 crore."

When Sibal urged the court to extend communication and other facilities to Subrata Roy, the court asked him what did he do with those facilities that were extended earlier to negotiate the sale of three overseas hotels and other assets to raise money -- but in vain.

Sahara has among its other assets, some aircraft, the Sahara Star hotel in Mumbai, a 42.5 percent stakes in Force India Formula One Team, two properties in Bengaluru, as also the famed Grosvenor House hotel in London, New York Plaza and Dream New York hotel.

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