Bombay HC in the MCX Case: Summary of the Judgment

The following is a summary of the various issues decided by the court, as extracted from the conclusions in the judgment itself:
(i) Though the MIMPS Regulations in terms apply to a stock exchange in respect of which a Scheme for demutualisation and corporatisation has been approved under Section 4B, the application of those regulations was extended to the Petitioner by SEBI as a condition for the grant of recognition. Though initially SEBI demanded full compliance with the MIMPS Regulations, the requirement which was imposed while extending recognition thereafter, was full compliance with the relevant Regulations. In either view of the matter, there must be a genuine, bona fide and honest attempt to comply with the MIMPS Regulations;
(iii) Regulation 8 prescribes the limit for holding of shares in a stock exchange by a person resident in India, individually or with persons acting in concert. The manner in which a dilution of the equity stake of the promoters had to take place in order to ensure compliance with the provisions of the MIMPS Regulations was not confined to the modes specified in Regulation 4. Many of the modalities prescribed in Regulation 4 do not apply to a stock exchange like the Petitioner which has no trading members. So long as there is a genuine divestment of the equity stake of the promoters in excess of the limit prescribed by Regulation 8, that would fulfill the requirement of Regulation 8;
(iv) Stock exchanges are an integral part of the statutory framework which SEBI regulates in relation to the securities market. The relationship between a stock exchange and SEBI is one based on trust and utmost good faith. A stock exchange is duty bound to make a full and honest disclosure of all material and relevant facts which have a bearing on the issue as to whether the requirements of the MIMPS Regulations have been fulfilled. The existence of the buy back agreements was a material circumstance which ought to have been disclosed to SEBI;
(v) The sanctioning of the Scheme of capital reduction by the Company Judge under Sections 391 to 393 read with Sections 100 to 103 of the Companies’ Act, 1956, does not preclude SEBI as a statutory regulator from determining as to whether the provisions of the MIMPS Regulations have been complied with. SEBI is independently entitled to ensure compliance with the MIMPS Regulations which have been made a condition for the grant of recognition. The statutory functions conferred upon SEBI under the SCRA and cognate legislation are not diluted;
(vii) The buy back agreements cannot be held to be illegal as found in the impugned order of the Whole Time Member of SEBI on the ground that they constitute forward contracts. A buy back confers an option on the promisee and no contract for the purchase and sale of shares is made until the option is exercised. The promissor cannot compel the exercise of the option and if the promisee were not to exercise the option in future, there would be no contract for the sale and purchase of shares. Once a contract is arrived at upon the option being exercised, the contract would be fulfilled by spot delivery and would, therefore, not be unlawful.
(viii) The alternate submission which has been urged on behalf of SEBI at the hearing that the buy back agreements constitute an option in securities and being derivatives violate the provisions of Section 18A of the SCRA is not the basis either of the notice to show cause that was issued to the Petitioner or of the order passed by the Whole Time Member of SEBI. SEBI has in fact, issued a notice to show cause to the Petitioner subsequent to the order asserting that as a ground. In that view of the matter, it will not be appropriate or proper for this Court to render any finding on that aspect, particularly when it did not find a place either in the notice to show cause or in the order passed thereon;
(ix) The definition of the expression “persons acting in concert” is for the purpose of the MIMPS Regulations derived from the Takeover Regulations, by Explanation (IV) to Regulation 8 of the MIMPS Regulations. Regulation 8 after its amendment in 2008, refers only to the holding of shares and not to the acquisition and holding of the shares as earlier. In applying the provisions of Regulation 2(1)(e) of the Takeover Regulations (which defines “persons acting in concert”) to the MIMPS Regulations, it would be permissible following well settled principles in that regard to make some alteration in detail to render the regulations meaningful and effective. However, the essential ingredients of the expression “persons acting in concert” in the Takeover Regulations cannot be abrogated. …;
(x) The impugned order passed by the Whole Time Member has failed to apply the principal test enunciated by the judgment of the Supreme Court in Daichi Sankyo (supra) in determining as to whether certain persons may be held to be acting in concert. The mere fact that two persons have come together in promoting a Company does not lead to the inference that they are acting in concert for the purposes of the Takeover Regulations. …;
(xii) On the aspect as to whether the Petitioner is a fit and proper person for the grant of recognition, the finding which has been arrived at in the impugned order is inter alia based on a conclusion as to the illegality of the buy back agreements on the ground that they are forward contracts, which is found to be erroneous in the present judgment. The effect of the non- disclosure of the buy back agreements to SEBI should be considered having regard to the fact that a genuine attempt has been made by the promoters by tendering an undertaking to the Court that their shareholding together shall not exceed five per cent of the equity capital, notwithstanding the exercise of the options.

About the author

Umakanth Varottil

Umakanth Varottil is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. He specializes in corporate law and governance, mergers and acquisitions and cross-border investments. Prior to his foray into academia, Umakanth was a partner at a pre-eminent law firm in India.

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