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Bombay HC Protects Litigant's Access to Justice: Halts Singapore Court Order Against CEO Anupam Mittal

In a significant legal development, the Bombay High Court has intervened to safeguard the access to justice for Anupam Mittal, the CEO of The court temporarily suspended the enforcement of an anti-suit permanent injunction order issued by the Singapore High Court, which had barred Mittal from pursuing his petition before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). This NCLT petition alleged the oppression and mismanagement of People Interactive (India) Pvt. Ltd., the parent company of Justice Manish Pitale, in his ruling, emphasized the importance of granting litigants their right to access justice.
Court Upholds Litigant's Right to Pursue Legal Remedy

Justice Manish Pitale underscored that disputes related to oppression and mismanagement are non-arbitrable in India. He rejected the idea that the principle of comity of courts should prevent a litigant from pursuing their only available legal remedy. In his words, "The principle of comity of Courts is well recognized, but the said principle cannot override the aforesaid valuable right of a litigant to access of justice, particularly when an injunction, as in this case, an anti-suit injunction, is issued by a foreign Court having the effect of interference with or preventing the plaintiff from pursuing the only legal remedy available in the facts and circumstances of the case."

The Background of the Legal Battle

The legal dispute in question revolves around a Shareholders Agreement (SHA) executed in February 2006. Anupam Mittal, along with his cousins Anand and Navin Mittal, entered into this agreement with People Interactive and Westbridge Ventures II Investment Holdings, a private equity fund incorporated in Mauritius. Through the SHA, Westbridge Ventures acquired a significant share of People Interactive.

Tensions escalated in 2019, leading Mittal to file a petition before the NCLT in Mumbai on March 3, 2021. This petition, filed under Sections 241 and 242 of the Companies Act, 2013, alleged oppression and mismanagement by Westbridge, with the alleged involvement of Mittal's cousins. However, on March 15, 2021, Westbridge served Mittal with an anti-suit injunction from the Singapore High Court. This injunction restrained Mittal from pursuing his NCLT petition, contending that the disputes were contractual and arbitrable under the terms of the SHA.

Mittal swiftly reacted by filing a lawsuit on March 18, 2021, seeking a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the anti-suit injunction. Additionally, he initiated proceedings in the Singapore High Court to challenge the anti-suit injunction's validity. Unfortunately for Mittal, the Singapore High Court upheld the anti-suit injunction in October 2021. Undeterred, Mittal appealed this decision in the Court of Appeal at Singapore in November 2021. It wasn't until January 2023 that the Court of Appeal at Singapore upheld the anti-suit injunction order, leading to Mittal's present interim application in the suit.

Non-Arbitrability of Claims in India

The Bombay High Court stressed that while the arbitration was set to take place in Singapore, the enforcement of the award would be subject to the Indian Arbitration Act. Importantly, the court highlighted that disputes pertaining to oppression and mismanagement are non-arbitrable under Indian law. The court posed a pertinent question, "What use would be the findings of the arbitral tribunal at Singapore on the question of oppression and mismanagement when the award consisting of such findings can never be enforced in India?"

Upholding the Right to Access Justice

The Bombay High Court firmly upheld the principle that access to justice is a vital component of the rule of law. It also recognized it as a universally acknowledged and constitutionally guaranteed right in India. The court warned against denying a litigant access to justice, particularly when there is no alternative forum available. In Mittal's case, the NCLT was his sole recourse for addressing allegations of oppression and mismanagement. The court ruled that Mittal has the right to seek redressal for his grievances through his petition filed before the NCLT.

Court's Decision Favours Mittal

The court found that Anupam Mittal had presented a strong prima facie case for the issuance of a temporary injunction against the enforcement of the anti-suit permanent injunction. It also determined that the balance of convenience weighed in Mittal's favor. Without the injunction, Mittal would be deprived of his only available remedy before the NCLT.

As a result, the Bombay High Court ordered Westbridge Ventures to cease enforcing the orders passed by the Singapore High Court and the Court of Appeal. Additionally, Westbridge Ventures was barred from relying on the aforementioned order when Mittal seeks injunctive relief in the NCLT.

This decision by the Bombay High Court is significant as it reaffirms the importance of ensuring that litigants have access to the legal remedies available to them, particularly in cases where disputes involve allegations of oppression and mismanagement.

The Bombay High Court has intervened to protect Anupam Mittal's right to access justice by temporarily halting the enforcement of a Singapore High Court's anti-suit permanent injunction. This ruling underscores the fundamental principle that access to justice is a crucial component of the rule of law and cannot be denied to litigants, especially when they have no alternative legal recourse available. Mittal's pursuit of justice before the National Company Law Tribunal has been upheld, marking a significant legal victory.

Case no. – Suit No. 95 of 2021

Case Title – Anupam Mittal v. People Interactive (India) Pvt. Ltd.