Investigation u/s 212 of Companies Act:

Investigation into the affairs of the Company:

There is no denying the fact that, the Competent Authority vide its order dated 20.06.2018 directed the SFIO to conduct an investigation into the affairs of the subject entities, in public interest. There is also no quarrel with the circumstance that, the period specified by the Competent Authority in the said order dated 20.06.2018 lapsed on 19.09.2018. There is also no dispute with regard to the fact that, the SFIO sought an extension of time, from the Competent Authority, to carry out further investigation under the mandate of the provisions of Section 212 of the said Act, only on 13.12.2018, admittedly two and half months after the period granted to them by the Competent Authority for the said purpose, had come to an end by efflux of time.

There is also no quarrel with the circumstance that, the ex post facto extension granted by the Competent Authority, retrospectively, was granted only on 14.12.2018. It is, therefore, prima facie axiomatic that, when the applicants were arrested by the SFIO on 10.12.2018, the period specified in the said order dated 20.06.2018 for the submission of the report, post investigation, had already elapsed. It is further relevant to state that, at that juncture the SFIO had neither applied nor obtained the ex post facto extension of the period specified in the said order dated 20.06.2018.

Investigation after expiry of time period:

It is, in these circumstances, read in conjunction with the norms set out by the SFIO itself, warranting investigation to be completed within the timeframe, stipulated by the Central Government, that we are of the considered view that the order of arrest suffers from the vice of lack of jurisdiction, unlawful and illegal.

A statutory body must be strictly held to the standards by which it professes its conduct to be judged.

Illegal detention of the applicants, in our considered view, cannot be sanctified by the subsequent remand orders, passed by the concerned Magistrate. The right of the applicants to insist upon the strict and scrupulous discharge of their duty by the SFIO and observe the forms and rules of law, is absolute. The arrest of the applicants on 10.12.2018 in the light of the circumstances antecedent and attendant was an absolute illegality and patently suffers from the vice of lack of legal sanction and jurisdiction.

This Court in a petition for habeas corpus cannot justify the continued illegal detention of the applicants; merely on account of the circumstance that the concerned Magistrate has rendered remand orders. The further custody of the applicants would, in our considered view, violate the principles of personal liberty, enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

[Source: Serious Fraud Investigation vs Rahul Modi decided by SC on 27 March, 2019]

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