SC okays piecemeal Aamby Valley auction as Piramals, Mahindras show interest

The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed fractured auction of Sahara's Aamby Valley property after two attempts at international auction of the entire asset as one lot failed. The court-appointed liquidator and receiver of the property has been told to complete the task within two months.

A bench of chief justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and A K Sikri allowed the proposal of selling the property in parts after Darius Khambatta, the lawyer for the official liquidator and receiver, said that two corporate houses – the Mahindra Group and the Piramal Group - had expressed interest in buying some of the assets of Aamby Valley.

Aamby Valley near Pune in Maharashtra is Sahara's most valuable project, spread over 10,000 hectares and comprising luxury resorts, man-made lakes and an airport.

Senior advocate Khambata told the bench that Aamby Valley was a huge property and it might not be possible to sell it at one go as no one participated in the auction process, which was advertised in India and abroad.

He said that there were many saleable assets within Aamby Valley, including an international school, a golf course, hotels and restaurants, which could be sold to raise the money, which the company is to pay the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). He also told the bench that movable properties, including 23 Mercedes cars and 100 other vehicles, could also be easily sold.

He said that process had already been initiated for identifying the saleable properties and the list would be prepared by the end of March.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for Sebi, told the bench that Sahara was still to pay Rs11,569 crore out of Rs25,781 crore of the principal amount to the market regulator.

Sahara's advocate Vikas Singh, pleaded the court not to put the assets under hammer and contended that the company had already refunded the money to its investors. He asked the court to direct Sebi to first hold verification of investor documents and proposed to give bank guarantee for the due amount. He said that the company had already paid Rs50 crore for digitisation of the document but the market regulator was not verifying it,

The apex court, which had earlier attached Aamby Valley property, said that selling of the assets could not be stayed and gave the green signal for fractured auction of the property to fetch the amount due on Sahara.

In April 2017, the Supreme Court had ordered to initiate the auction of the property in October, after two companies of the group, Sahara India Real Estate and Sahara Housing Invest Corp, failed to refund Rs24,029 crore raised from over 29.6 million investors along with interest at 15 per cent.

In October, Sebi approached the apex court seeking contempt proceedings against the Sahara Group for obstructing the auction process by allegedly suspending day-to-day business activities in the project.

The official liquidator has described Aamby Valley an "ultra-exclusive chartered city" that includes timber chalets, modern villas, golf course, hospital, school and airport, among other amenities.

In January 2012, Sahara valued the property at Rs34,000 crore but the liquidator has pegged its worth at Rs43,000 crore. It had on 25 July last year allowed the official liquidator appointed by it to auction the property under the supervision of Company Judge of Bombay HC and Justice A S Oka.

Sahara chief Subrata Roy who was arrested and spent almost two years behind bars for not paying the amount was released on 6 May last year and has been out on bail since then.