On Thursday, Supreme Court gave partial relief to Reliance Communications, allowing it to sell most of its assets to Reliance Jio Infocomm to pare its nearly Rs 45,000-crore debt. However, RCom will require separate approval for selling tower and fibre assets, from the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).
A two-judge bench, headed by Justice AK Goel, set aside the stay on sale of assets imposed by the Bombay High Court on March 8. Lenders got the go-ahead to sell RCom’s spectrum, real estate and switching nodes — which, till now, could not be done without prior permission of an arbitral court.
However, the bench did not lift the stay imposed by a National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) order, on sale of towers and fibre housed under Reliance Infratel. It instead asked RCom to move NCLAT as per procedure to get the stay vacated.
“Accordingly, there is now no bar in immediately completing asset sales of spectrum, MCNs and real estate and it shall be concluded expeditiously,” RCom said in a statement on Thursday.
The Anil Ambani-owned company added that it will file an appeal on Friday before the NCLAT.
NCLT granted the stay in favour of minority investors, including HSBC Daisy Investment, who hold just over 4% stake and had objected to the sale of Reliance Infratel’s towers and fibre.
RCom said it was “confident of securing appropriate relief from the NCLAT to enable sales of tower and fibre assets to also be completed at the earliest. The claim of the minority investors (which is fully disputed by RCom) can, in any case, be a maximum of approximately Rs 200-300 crore of the sales proceeds.”
It added that it is confident of achieving overall debt reduction of Rs 25,000 crore by selling spectrum, tower, fibre and switching nodes within the next few weeks.
The carrier had moved the apex court on March 19 against orders of the Bombay High Court and NCLT barring it from selling its wireless assets to Jio without prior approval.
An arbitral tribunal had first passed these orders early March, on the plea of Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson, which had sought to recover unpaid dues of over Rs 1,000 crore. The high court upheld these orders.
NCLT had separately passed its orders on a petition filed by offshore investors of Reliance Infratel led by HSBC Daisy Investments (Mauritius), which had alleged oppression of minority shareholders and mismanagement.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for RCom in the Supreme Court on Thursday, said the telco’s value would deteriorate to the extent that it would be unable to pay even secured lenders, if it is not allowed to sell assets.
Ten banks, including SBI, argued for the right to sell RCom’s property as it was mortgaged by them, saying the arbitration tribunal cannot take away this right.
Ericsson agreed with the banks’ having first right but argued against the sale of assets being a private arrangement between seller and buyer.
For RCom, it’s a race against time. Sale of towers, optic fibre, right-to-use spectrum and media convergence nodes to Jio will pare give it about Rs 25,000 crore. The two companies already have approval from the Competition Commission of India.
Sale of RCom’s 125 acres at DKAC, Navi Mumbai, with approximately 20 million square feet of development space, will further pare this debt by Rs 7,000 crore. This deal, though, it still to be sealed.
RCom said last month that it was in discussions with a global strategic partner for further debt reduction, which will occur upon a stake sale.