Stress-free is how Sahara Group chief Subrata Roy described himself in his book Life Mantras, released on 1 February.
His case in the Supreme Court has eased into a routine of being heard once in a month or two; and five proposed deals, 25 court hearings and two years later, the activity and buzz surrounding Roy’s case has dulled considerably.
Roy, the Sahara Group’s promoter, chief and pater familias, will begin his third year in judicial custody on Friday. Lodged in Tihar Jail, Roy has to raise a sum of Rs.10,000 crore for his bail.
On 4 March 2014, the Supreme Court passed its order sending Roy—and two Sahara Group company directors Ravi Shankar Dubey and Ashok Roy Choudhary—to jail, after the companies’ repeated failure to deliver on promises made to return the money collected from depositors.
In its 6 May 2014 ruling, the apex court noted that he was jailed for ensuring payment of his financial liability—at the time of nearly Rs.20,000 crore— which was a valid form of judicial enforcement.
The conditions for his release were apparently simple: deposit Rs.10,000 crore, half in cash and half as a bank guarantee, and then return the balance amount.
No significant progress
Over last two years, approximately Rs 4,000 crore of the Rs 10,000 crore bail money has been deposited with market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India, according to lawyers for the market regulator.
The conglomerate attempted to raise a bank guarantee of Rs 5,000 crore through several banks, including Bank of China, Hong Kong-based Nouam Ltd, and most recently Russia-based VTB Bank.
On the last date of hearing, Sahara told the Supreme Court that it planned to sell its London hotel—Grosvenor House—to the state of Qatar, which would leave a surplus of Rs.2,350 crore after furnishing Roy’s bail.
The next hearing for the case is 29 March, but nothing has moved forward, according to those aware of the intricacies of the case.
“What’s more worrisome is that there has been no movement on the main case itself. All these hearings are about the bail, but not about the case. The Supreme Court should now move on the case. By this time, the case should have been investigated and a final report available,” said Prithvi Haldea, chairperson and managing director of Prime Database.
On 19 June 2015, the Supreme Court laid down an 18-month deadline for recovering Rs.36,000 crore from Sahara, once Roy was released.
The money was what the two Sahara companies raised without seeking permission from Sebi for what was essentially a public offer. Sebi and the Sahara Group battled it out in court, the stock market regulator won; Sahara was ordered to pay back the money; and, when it dragged its feet, and when Roy himself missed an appearance before the court, he was sent to jail for contempt.
Sahara Group has consistently refuted this large financial liability. According to the group, and its lawyers’ arguments before the Supreme Court, it has refunded Rs 17,000 crore to 30 million depositors already.
“Sahara Group has paid substantial amount already. Sahara will make effort to satisfy the court and seek Subrata Roy’s release,” a Sahara lawyer said.
A Sahara spokesperson did not respond to calls and an email seeking comment.
However, the two years in jail haven’t changed Roy, who last month belted out his first book called Life Mantras, part of the Thoughts from Tihar trilogy. It is unlikely that he has seen his family during this time as his wife, Swapna Roy, and son Sushanto Roy acquired Macedonian citizenship in 2013.
Roy writes in his book, “I, like any other human in confinement, could not contain my thoughts and at times felt an emotional outrage, ‘why me?’, ‘what have I done wrong to deserve this?’ Thoughts such as these often raced through my mind.” He called his imprisonment a “rude shock”.
A person close to the development said that the two years have made Roy more resilient towards the legal system he feels has targeted him.
The case drags on, and the Supreme Court has made it clear that Roy will not be released unless he pays the Rs.10,000 crore bail.
Meanwhile, Roy is at work on the second book of the trilogy.
Sahara has filed a defamation case in a Patna court against Mint’s editor and some reporters over the newspaper’s coverage of the company’s dispute with the Securities and Exchange Board of India. Mint is contesting the case.