New bench to hear Sahara case as judge seeks to opt out

The Supreme Court is in the process of assigning two new judges to hear the high-profile Sahara case involving its 65-year-old chief Subrata Roy after one of the two judges hearing the case retired and the other sought to recuse himself from hearing the case.

Justice J S Khehar has reportedly written to the Chief Justice of India R M Lodha seeking to be excluded from the new bench, which will hear the Sahara case after Justice K S Radhakrishnan, who was hearing the case with him, retires.

Justice J S Khehar's move comes in the wake of alleged revelations of unbearable ''pressure'' brought on him during the course of the case.

Subrata Roy, chairman of the unlisted Sahara group of companies, has been in jail in Delhi for two months after his group companies failed to refund over Rs24,000 crore collected through illegal bonds issued to millions of small investors.

Subrata Roy's business interests are mired in a long-running legal battle with market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi).

Sebi accuses Sahara of raising thousands of crores from small investors through illegal 'optionally fully convertible' bonds and wanted the two Sahara group companies to refund the mony to the investors. Sahara, however, has been dilly-dallying and has so far failed to implement the court order to refund the amount collected through OFCDs.

Sahara argues it has repaid most investors and that its total liability is less than the Rs5,120 crore it had deposited with the regulator.

Roy was detained on 28 February after he failed to abide by the SC order to appear at the hearing of a contempt plea and has since been in Delhi's Tihar jail since 4 March (See:  Sahara chief Roy finally surrenders; son claims he wasn't absconding).

Roy, who denied any wrongdoing, has yet to be formally charged.

The court had asked the group to make an interim payment of Rs10,000 crore to secure Roy's bail, but Sahara has proposed to pay the money in installments.

The court has asked Sahara to come up with a fresh repayment schedule (No bail for Sahara's Roy as SC says he's playing mind games).