For a preference to become an offending one for the purpose of Section 43 of the Code, another essential and rather prime requirement is to be satisfied that such event, of giving preference, ought to have happened within and during the specified time, referred to as “relevant time”.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of Anuj Jain Interim Resolution Professional for Jaypee Infratech Limited vs. Axis Bank Limited, Civil Appeal Nos. 8512-8527 of 2019, analysed preferential transaction as provided in Section 43 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.
The provision of Section 43 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 indicate the intention of legislature that when a transaction falls within the coordinates defined therein, the same shall be deemed to be a preference given at a relevant time and shall not be countenanced. Therefore, intent may not be of a defence or support of any preferential transaction that falls within the ambit of Section 43 of the Code.
While analysing Section 43 and 44 of the Code, Section 44 provides for the consequences of an offending preferential transaction i.e., when the preference is given at a relevant time. Under Section 44, the Adjudicating Authority may pass such orders as to reverse the effect of an offending preferential transaction. Amongst others, the Adjudicating Authority may require any property transferred in connection with giving of preference to be vested in the corporate debtor; it may also release or discharge (wholly or in part) any security interest created by the corporate debtor. The consequences of offending preferential transaction are, obviously, drastic and practically operate towards annulling the effect of such transaction. Looking to the contents, context and consequences, we are at one with the contentions urged on behalf of the respondents with reference to the decisions in Devinder Singh (supra) and other cited cases, that these provisions need to be strictly construed. However, even if we proceed on strict construction of Section 43 of the Code, the underlying principles and the object cannot be lost sight of. In other words, the construction has to be such that leads towards achieving the object of these provisions.
Looking at the broad features of Section 43 of the Code, it is noticed that as per sub-section (1) thereof, when the liquidator or the resolution professional, as the case may be, is of the opinion that the corporate debtor has, at a relevant time, given a preference in such transactions and in such manner as specified in sub-section (2), to any person/persons as referred to in sub-section (4), he is required to apply to the Adjudicating Authority for avoidance of preferential transactions and for one or more of the orders referred to in Section 44. If twin conditions specified in sub-section (2) of Section 43 are satisfied, the transaction would be deemed to be of preference. As per clause (a) of sub-section (2) of Section 43, the transaction, of transfer of property or an interest thereof of the corporate debtor, ought to be for the benefit of a creditor or a surety or a guarantor for or on account of an antecedent financial debt or operational debt or other liabilities owed by the corporate debtor; and as per clause (b) thereof, such transfer ought to be of the effect of putting such creditor or surety or guarantor in beneficial position than it would have been in the event of distribution of assets under Section 53.
However, merely giving of the preference and putting the beneficiary in a better position is not enough. For a preference to become an offending one for the purpose of Section 43 of the Code, another essential and rather prime requirement is to be satisfied that such event, of giving preference, ought to have happened within and during the specified time, referred to as “relevant time”. The relevant time is reckoned, as per sub-section (4) of Section 43 of the Code, in two ways: (a) if the preference is given to a related party (other than an employee), the relevant time is a period of two years preceding the insolvency commencement date; and (b) if the preference is given to a person other than a related party, the relevant time is a period of one year preceding such commencement date. In other words, for a transaction to fall within the mischief sought to be remedied by Sections 43 and 44 of the Code, it ought to be a preferential one answering to the requirements of sub-section (2) of Section 43; and the preference ought to have been given at a relevant time, as specified in sub-section (4) of Section 43.