Tuesday 25 May 2021

Whether liability of the Personal guarantor for Corporate debt will extinguish on approval of the Insolvency resolution plan?

  All creditors and other classes of claimants, including financial and operational creditors, those entitled to statutory dues, workers, etc., who participate in the resolution process, are heard and those in relation to whom the CoC accepts or rejects pleas, are entitled to vent their grievances before the NCLT. After considering their submissions and objections, the resolution plan is accepted and approved. This results in finality as to the claims of creditors, and others, from the company (i.e. the company which undergoes the insolvency process). The question which the petitioners urge is that in view of this finality, their liabilities would be extinguished; they rely on Sections 128, 133 and 140 of the Contract Act to urge that creditors cannot therefore, proceed against them separately. {Para 128}

129. In Vijay Kumar Jain v. Standard Chartered Bank67, this court, while dealing with the right of erstwhile directors participating in meetings of Committee of Creditors observed that:

“we find that Section 31(1) of the Code would make it clear that such members of the erstwhile Board of Directors, who are often guarantors, are vitally interested in a resolution plan as such resolution plan then binds them. Such plan may scale down the debt of the principal debtor, resulting in scaling down the debt of the guarantor as well, or it may not. The resolution plan may also scale down certain debts and not others, leaving guarantors of the latter kind of debts exposed for the entire amount of the debt. The regulations also make it clear that these persons are vitally interested in resolution plans as they affect them”

130. The rationale for allowing directors to participate in meetings of the CoC is that the directors' liability as personal guarantors persists against the creditors and an approved resolution plan can only lead to a revision of amount or exposure for the entire amount. Any recourse under Section 133 of the Contract Act to discharge the liability of the surety on account of variance in terms of the contract, without her or his consent, stands negated by this court, in V. Ramakrishnan where it was observed that the language of Section 31 makes it clear that the approved plan is binding on the guarantor, to avoid any attempt to escape liability under the provisions of the Contract Act. It was observed that:

“25. Section 31(1), in fact, makes it clear that the guarantor cannot escape payment as the resolution plan, which has been approved, may well include provisions as to payments to be made by such guarantor.…”

131. And further that:

“26.1 Section 14 refers only to debts due by corporate debtors, who are limited liability companies, and it is clear that in the vast majority of cases, personal guarantees are given by Directors who are in management of the companies. The object of the Code is not to allow such guarantors to escape from an independent and co-extensive liability to pay off the entire outstanding debt, which is why Section 14 is not applied to them. However, insofar as firms and individuals are concerned, guarantees are given in respect of individual debts by persons who have unlimited liability to pay them. And such guarantors may be complete strangers to the debtor — often it could be a personal friend. It is for this reason that the moratorium mentioned in Section 101 would cover such persons, as such moratorium is in relation to the debt and not the debtor.”

132. In Committee of Creditors of Essar Steel (I) Ltd. v. Satish Kumar Gupta68 (the “Essar Steel case”) this court refused to interfere with proceedings initiated to enforce personal guarantees by financial creditors; it was observed as follows:

106. Following this judgment in V. Ramakrishnan case [SBI v. V. Ramakrishnan, (2018) 17 SCC 394], it is difficult to accept Shri Rohatgi's argument that that part of the resolution plan which states that the claims of the guarantor on account of subrogation shall be extinguished, cannot be applied to the guarantees furnished by the erstwhile Directors of the corporate debtor. So far as the present case is concerned, we hasten to add that we are saying nothing which may affect the pending litigation on account of invocation of these guarantees. However, NCLAT judgment being contrary to Section 31(1) of the Code and this Court's judgment in V. Ramakrishnan case [SBI v. V. Ramakrishnan, (2018) 17 SCC 394], is set aside.”

133. It is therefore, clear that the sanction of a resolution plan and finality imparted to it by Section 31 does not per se operate as a discharge of the guarantor's liability. As to the nature and extent of the liability, much would depend on the terms of the guarantee itself. However, this court has indicated, time and again, that an involuntary act of the principal debtor leading to loss of security, would not absolve a guarantor of its liability. In Maharashtra State Electricity Board (supra) the liability of the guarantor (in a case where liability of the principal debtor was discharged under the insolvency law or the company law), was considered. It was held that in view of the unequivocal guarantee, such liability of the guarantor continues and the creditor can realize the same from the guarantor in view of the language of Section 128 of the Contract Act as there is no discharge under Section 134 of that Act. This court observed as follows:

 Under Section 128 of the Indian Contract Act, the liability of the surety is coextensive with that of the principal debtor unless it is otherwise provided by the contract. A surety is no doubt discharged under Section 134 of the Indian Contract Act by any contract between the creditor and the principal debtor by which the principal debtor is released or by any act or omission of the creditor, the legal consequence of which is the discharge of the principal debtor. But a discharge which the principal debtor may secure by operation of law in bankruptcy (or in liquidation proceedings in the case of a company) does not absolve the surety of his liability (see Jagannath Ganeshram Agarwala v. Shivnarayan Bhagirath [AIR 1940 Bom 247; see also In re Fitzgeorge Ex parte Robson [[1905] 1 K.B. 462]).”

136. In view of the above discussion, it is held that approval of a resolution plan does not ipso facto discharge a personal guarantor (of a corporate debtor) of her or his liabilities under the contract of guarantee. As held by this court, the release or discharge of a principal borrower from the debt owed by it to its creditor, by an involuntary process, i.e. by operation of law, or due to liquidation or insolvency proceeding, does not absolve the surety/guarantor of his or her liability, which arises out of an independent contract.

137. For the foregoing reasons, it is held that the impugned notification is legal and valid. It is also held that approval of a resolution plan relating to a corporate debtor does not operate so as to discharge the liabilities of personal guarantors (to corporate debtors). The writ petitions, transferred cases and transfer petitions are accordingly dismissed in the above terms, without order on costs.

In the Supreme Court of India

(Before L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ.)

Transferred Case (Civil) No. 245/2020

Lalit Kumar Jain  Vs Union of India 

Citation: 2021 SCC OnLine SC 396

Dated: May 21, 2021.

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