13 Sep 2023 9:10 AM GMT
The Bombay High Court has temporarily stayed the enforcement of an anti-suit permanent injunction order issued by the Singapore High Court against Anupam Mittal, the founder and CEO of Shaadi.com.The Singapore High Court order restrained Mittal from proceeding with his petition before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) alleging oppression and mismanagement of People Interactive (India)...
The Bombay High Court has temporarily stayed the enforcement of an anti-suit permanent injunction order issued by the Singapore High Court against Anupam Mittal, the founder and CEO of Shaadi.com.
The Singapore High Court order restrained Mittal from proceeding with his petition before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) alleging oppression and mismanagement of People Interactive (India) Pvt. Ltd, the parent company of Shaadi.com.
Justice Manish Pitale observed that disputes regarding oppression and mismanagement are non-arbitrable in India and the principle of comity of courts cannot prevent a litigant from pursuing the only available legal remedy.
“The principle of comity of Courts is well recognized, but the said principle cannot override the aforesaid valuable right of a litigant to access of justice, particularly when an injunction, as in this case, an anti-suit injunction, is issued by a foreign Court having the effect of interference with or preventing the plaintiff from pursuing the only legal remedy available in the facts and circumstances of the case. If such an injunction of the foreign Court is offensive to the domestic public policy, enforcement of the same can be resisted and the principle of comity of Courts cannot be used as a weapon to leave a litigant completely remediless”, the court held.
The court was dealing with a Suit filed by Mittal seeking an injunction to prevent Westbridge Ventures II Investment Holdings, a private equity fund incorporated in Mauritious, from enforcing the anti-suit permanent injunction.
In February 2006, a Shareholders Agreement (SHA) was executed between Mittal, his cousins Anand and Navin Mittal, People Interactive, and Westbridge, through which Westbridge acquired a substantial share of People Interactive.
Disputes arose in 2019, and on March 3, 2021, Mittal filed a petition before the NCLT, Mumbai under Sections 241 and 242 of the Companies Act, 2013, alleging oppression and mismanagement by Westbridge aided by his cousins Anand and Navin Mittal. On March 15, 2021, Westbridge served the plaintiff with an anti-suit injunction passed by the Singapore High Court restraining Mittal from proceeding with the NCLT petition and asserting that the disputes were contractual and arbitrable in Singapore, as per the SHA.
Mittal filed the present suit on March 18, 2021, seeking a permanent injunction against enforcing the anti-suit injunction and also initiated proceedings in the Singapore High Court to vacate the anti-suit injunction. The Singapore High Court confirmed the anti-suit injunction in October 2021. Mittal appealed against this decision in the Court of Appeal at Singapore in November 2021. In January 2023, the Court of Appeal at Singapore upheld the anti-suit injunction order.
Thus, Mittal filed the present interim application in the suit seeking ad interim relief against enforcement of the anti-suit injunction.
Non-arbitrability of claims in India
The Bombay High Court noted that while the place of arbitration is chosen as Singapore, the enforcement of the award is to be in terms of the Indian Arbitration Act. The court emphasized that disputes related to oppression and mismanagement are non-arbitrable under Indian law.
“it cannot be said that since the disputes pertaining to oppression and mismanagement are arbitrable under Singapore law, the plaintiff has the forum of arbitration in the chosen seat at Singapore to ventilate his grievances pertaining to such disputes. What use would be the findings of the arbitral tribunal at Singapore on the question of oppression and mismanagement, when the award consisting of such findings, can never be enforced in India?”, the court questioned.
Access to justice
The court emphasized that access to justice is not only a vital component of the rule of law but is also universally recognized as a valuable right. Denying a litigant access to justice, particularly when no other forum is available, would undermine this right, which is constitutionally guaranteed in India, the court said. Mittal can seek redressal of his grievance on the aspect of oppression and mismanagement, only in his petition filed before the NCLT, the court said.
The court found that Mittal had made a strong prima facie case for the issuance of a temporary injunction against the enforcement of the anti-suit permanent injunction. The court also found that balance of convenience lies in Mittal’s favour as he would be deprived of the only available remedy before the NCLT if the injunction were not granted.
Thus, the court restrained Westbridge from enforcing the orders passed by Singapore High Court and the Court of Appeal. The court also restrained Westbridge from relying of the aforementioned order when Mittal seeks injunctive reliefs in the NCLT.
Case no. – Suit No. 95 of 2021
Case Title – Anupam Mittal v. People Interactive (India) Pvt. Ltd.
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