In a major setback for Raymond Group chairman emeritus Dr Vijaypat Singhania, the Bombay high court has ruled that the family is bound to honour a previous arbitration agreement, and directed Vijaypat to vacate his Juhu Bungalow within 14 weeks.
The various branches of the dispersed Singhania clan — in Mumbai, Kanpur and Kolkata — have been fighting for ownership of the Juhu property, worth over Rs 90 crore, for over two decades.
Justice Sriram also ruled that if Vijaypat fails to vacate the bungalow within the stipulated time, an officer of the court should “take actual physical possession of the Juhu property and hand over the same to the Calcutta group”. The court, however, stayed its own order for eight weeks to allow the Mumbai group to appeal in the Supreme Court. The high court came down heavily on Vijaypat and other members of the Singhania family for their “dishonesty and self-centeredness” in “dragging the litigation for over 30 years despite entering into a family settlement in 1987”. It directed the Mumbai and Kanpur branches of the family to pay a fine of Rs 10 lakh each to the Kolkata group and another Rs 10 lakh to the Maharashtra Legal Services Authority for wasting the judiciary’s time.
The orders came while the court was presiding over a plea filed by the Kolkata group, led by the family of Vijaypat’s late brother Hari Shankar Singhania. The group had sought the execution of a 2006 order of a Supreme Court-appointed arbitrator, according to which the Juhu bungalow, occupied by the Vijaypat and his wife, was to be handed to them. In return, they were to pay Rs 24 crore to the Mumbai group and Rs 22 crore to the Kanpur group.
The Singhanias had also drawn up a family agreement in 1987, under which the properties of the family firm JK Bankers were to be divided equally among the three branches of the family. Under this arrangement too, the Juhu bungalow was to be handed over to the Kolkata group.
However, while Kolkata group consented to keep its end of the agreement, Vijaypat has refused to vacate the bungalow. He also challenged the arbitration agreement in the Bombay high court, but his petition was dismissed in 2009. Consequently, Hari Shankar’s family moved the high court, seeking an execution of the agreement.
Vijaypat’s estranged son Madhupati Singhania also moved the high court, asking that either Vijaypat be ordered to vacate the bungalow or the property be attached by the court. Madhupati feared that the family would appropriate his share of the money paid by the Kolkata group in exchange for the bungalow.
Vijaypat’s lawyers had argued in that the agreement was a “joint decree and must be executed as a whole. However, since the Kanpur group failed to hand over its properties to the Bombay group, the Bombay group must not be required to keep its obligations.”
Justice Shriram however, rejected this argument and held that the agreement in favour of each of the three groups was “distinct and severable”, and thus could be “executable distinctly and separately”.
“The Calcutta Group has repeatedly tried to perform its obligations by offering to bring in the money against receiving possession of the Juhu property. It is quite obvious that the Kanpur Group does not want to part with the property… and the Bombay group is finding a very convenient alibi in the Kanpur group. Both are enjoying the assets in question. They are merely trying to drag proceedings endlessly and for another period of uninterrupted enjoyment of the assets,” Justice Shriram said.