More than six years after initiating a Supreme Court-monitored recovery and refund process for an estimated Rs 25,000 crore collected by Sahara group from nearly three crore investors, regulator Sebi has received less than 20,000 claims while two-third of them have been refunded a total amount of Rs 106.10 crore.
The refunded amount includes Rs 56.86 crore of principal and Rs 49.24 crore paid as interest for 13,543 refund claims made by bondholders of two Sahara group firms, as per the latest update from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi).
The refund has been made from a special account created by Sebi, to which Sahara was asked to deposit the money even as the group has maintained that it had directly refunded more than 95 per cent of investors.
Sebi said an aggregate amount of Rs 15,438 crore has been recovered so far from Sahara through various direction of the Supreme Court and the attachment orders issued by the regulator in 2013.
The regulator said Rs 20,173 crore (the recovered amount along with the interest earned on them after providing for refunds made to the investors) was deposited in nationalised banks as on March 31, 2019 as per the Supreme Court order.
Giving update in its latest annual report, Sebi said it had received 19,547 applications involving 53,233 accounts as on March 31, 2019, and made refunds with respect to 13,543 applications involving 38,143 accounts for an aggregate amount of Rs 106.10 crore.
While more than 4,000 cases (involving claims totalling Rs 17.3 crore) were pending at Sebi, 254 cases were pending with Sahara (for Rs 71.6 lakh) and over 1,000 cases were pending at the end of investors (over Rs 3.84 crore).
A total of 131 applications have been declared as 'disputed cases' and involve a total amount of less than Rs 50 lakh, while 542 applications seeking refund of over Rs 1.57 crore have been 'closed' after investors failed to respond.
Sebi had ordered Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd (SIRECL) and Sahara Housing Investment Corporation Ltd (SHICL) in 2011 to refund the money raised from investors through certain bonds known as Optionally Fully Convertible Bonds (OFCDs).
After a long process of appeals and cross-appeals, the Supreme Court on August 31, 2012 upheld Sebi's directions asking the two firms to refund the money collected from investors with 15 per cent interest.
Replying to PTI queries on the latest update from Sebi, Sahara's lawyer Gautam Awasthi said the regulator's annual report "in principle only validates our long maintained plea that Sahara has already repaid more than 95 per cent of around 3 Crore OFCD investors of its two companies".
He said it was a case of "double payment" as Sahara first made the repayment to investors and then an equivalent amount was deposited with Sebi.
"We have been requesting Sebi to initiate on-ground verification of investors as per the Supreme Court order of 2012, which has not commenced till yet. If verification is done by Sebi, it will come out that most of the investors has already been paid and all this money will come back to Sahara," Awasthi said.
He claimed that a huge amount of Rs 21,000 crore deposited by Sahara was lying unutilised and idle in banks, which was "not only hurting the interest of Sahara as a business organisation, but also impeding the economic growth of our country especially in these testing times of economic slowdown and global slump".
The group said that as the country's second largest employer after Indian Railways, with 14 lakh workers, has always built it businesses by harnessing human capital spread across India and by giving employment at their doorstep.
It further said the group had to withdraw its expansion plans that required more than 4 lakh employees due to these roadblocks, but once the deposited money comes back to it, the group would re-initiate the business expansion aimed at providing livelihood to lakhs in the country.
Awasthi said Sahara has been claiming from the beginning that it has repaid most of the liability and had it not been true there would have been a huge chaos across the country due to such a large number of investors.
"On the contrary, there is not a single FIR on this," he said.
The lawyer also claimed that Sebi has refused to accept all original documents pertaining to the investors, their investment and the repayments made by Sahara and a large percentage of the documents are still lying in the group's godown.
In its annual report, Sebi said it has been acting in accordance with the directions of the Supreme Court and its actions are overseen by Justice (retd) B N Agrawal. The regulator has filed 20 status reports before the apex court which have also been furnished to Sahara group.
On Sahara group's luxury resort project, Aamby Valley City, which was earlier proposed to be sold to recover the money, Sebi said the apex court in July 2018 noticed that the property was not in a position to be sold as there had been no response to a notice inviting bids.
Sebi said it issued multiple advertisements inviting refund claims from investors after the Supreme Court in May 2013 asked the regulator to make
refunds to all genuine investors who had lodged their claims with it.
The final round of advertisement was issued on March 26, 2018, giving July 2, 2018 as the last date. Another clarificatory advertisement was issued on June 19, 2018 to inform the bondholders that it was their last and final opportunity and no further refund claims would be entertained.