The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on Monday the submissions of US e-commerce major Amazon, seeking an interim order to ensure that the Future Retail Limited (FRL) assets, including “Big Bazaar shops”, not be alienated till the dispute over its merger with Reliance Retail is decided by an arbitral tribunal.
A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli, which had heard part arguments on Amazon’s plea on April 1, has posted the case for the conclusion of submissions on April 4.
The bench had taken note of the submissions of both sides, Amazon and Future Group, that they have no objection to the resumption of the arbitral proceedings and said as far as “the first issue about going ahead with the arbitration is concerned, both of you have agreed”.
“You both file a small memo so that we can record it and the SLP can be disposed of. The other aspect is this IA, which is regarding non-alienation of properties,” it had said.
The court had also questioned whether it could pass an interim order restraining FRL from alienating its assets till the decision of the arbitral tribunal comes in view of the fact that no landlord of “Big Bazaar shops” was present before it as a party.
“If tenants or landlords are not before us, how can the court pass an order injuncting them from taking possession (of shops),” it had said.
At the outset, senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, appearing for the US firm, had said as far as the resumption of the arbitration proceedings is concerned, there is no difference of opinion between Amazon and Future Group.
“But there cannot be a sudden handover of assets,” Subramanium had said, adding that the US firm needs an interim order “against alienation of the assets in favour of any other party and the assets must continue to remain with FRL and operate with FRL until the matter is resolved by the arbitral tribunal”.
He had said over 800 shops of FRL have been vacated and taken over by the Reliance group.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for FRL, had said around 374 shops are with the group and it is not going to give those to anybody on its own unless some landlords throw them out.
“My bank accounts are frozen and I cannot pay rent. Everyone is hoping that if the scheme gets through, Reliance comes in and everyone will get the money,” he had said, adding that there is no money to pay the rentals and moreover, if the lending banks come into the picture, the IBC (Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code) will come into play.
Amazon had apprehended the “disappearance” of assets and sought an interim order from the top court to ensure the preservation of the FRL assets, besides the resumption of arbitration over FRL’s merger deal with Reliance Retail.
The bench had taken note of the allegations of the US firm that the “applecart was being upset” by its rivals and asked the Future Group firms — FRL and Future Coupons Limited (FCPL) — to respond to Amazon’s interim plea.
Amazon and Future Group are engaged in a multi-forum litigation on the issue of FRL’s merger deal to the tune of Rs 24,500 crore with Reliance Retail Limited after the US e-commerce giant dragged FRL into arbitration at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre in October 2020.
It has been alleged by Amazon that on March 3, as many as 600 stores of FRL were taken away by Reliance.
The plea was vehemently objected to by the Future Group lawyers on Tuesday.
The top court was told by Amazon that besides seeking the resumption of the arbitral proceedings, it wants an order so that FRL’s assets are there for it if it wins the arbitration as the “applecart was being upset”.
The bench is hearing Amazon’s appeal against the January 5 order of the Delhi High Court, which stayed the proceedings before the arbitral tribunal over Future Retail’s merger deal with Reliance Retail. Deccan Herald