Life Insurance Corporation of India Vs Hari Das Mundhra And Ors., 1962

Bench: S.N. Dwivedi

Date of Judgement: 14 February, 1962


The Life Insurance Corporation of India v. Hari Das Mundhra and Others case is an important case in Indian corporate law because it shows the delicate balance that must be struck between directorial responsibility, corporate governance, and the legal remedies available for misuse of power. A conglomerate with investments in several industries, British India Corporation Limited suffered from bad financial decisions and transactions made between 1956 and 1958 under the direction of its then-chairman, H.D. Mundhra. The attempt to buy shares from Samastipur was the most prominent of these, and it cost a lot of money. A major investor, the Life Insurance Corporation of India, advocated for Mundhra and related directors’ accountability for their participation in the ensuing financial wrongdoing and mismanagement by filing a lawsuit. This case unfolds against the backdrop of the Companies Act of 1956, touching upon critical legal principles of corporate governance and fiduciary responsibility.


From September 1955 to April 1958, the Corporation owned 100% of Begg Sutherland Co. with issued capital of Rs. 30,00,000 and managed a number of mills, including The Cawnpore Woollen Mills, The Cawnpore Cotton Mills, North-West Tannery, Cooper Alien, and The New Egerton Woollen Mills. Its reserves climbed from Rs. 1,00,000 to Rs. 2,00,000, while the net value of its fixed capital went from Rs. 87,800 in 1950 to Rs. 1,11,060 in 1957. A sequence of increasing debit balances with the State Bank of India, Kanpur, which began at Rs. 3,86,94,245 on August 9, 1955, peaked at Rs. 4,34,03,000 by March 24, 1956, then gradually decreased and fluctuated about this level, demonstrated the Corporation’s financial difficulties.

An important development was the agreement reached on March 2, 1957, the board of directors of the Corporation, at the instance of H.D. Mundhra, accepted the offer for sale of 70,000 ordinary shares of Samastipur at Rs. 26 per share and of 14,837 ordinary shares of Samastipur at Rs. 15 per share and of Balrampur share to a group of purchasers consisting of Jamunadas Kayan, Hari Das Mundhra and certain other persons, Hari Das Mundhra had 50 per cent, interest therein. Despite a more attractive offer from Jhunjhunwala, Mundhra authorized a partial payment debit of Rs. 23,00,000 from his account. But later on, Mundhra and his group broke this arrangement, which caused a series of board meetings where the Corporation’s financial situation was discussed and attempts to sell the shares to other buyers were taken into consideration. Even after getting a letter from Jumnadas Kayan terminating the contract, the Corporation persisted in looking for buyers for its mills, finally taking into account a proposal from Roop Narain Ram Chandra (P.) Ltd. A draft agreement of sale to Roop Narain Ram Chandra (P.) Ltd. was considered in July 1957, following the board’s frequent meetings during this period to address the pressing financial demands and investigate the possibility of selling the mills.


The company judge asked 24 questions in all. Issue No. 6 asked whether the British India Corporation had any losses or damages as a result of the winding up petition that was filed against it as claimed, and if so, if respondent No. 1, Sri Hari Das Mundhra, was accountable or liable for those losses or damages. Two cross-appeals against the learned company judge’s May 12, 1961, decisions in a case involving the Kanpur-based British India Corporation Ltd.’s operations are the basis for this case. Sections 397, 398, and 543 of the Companies Act of 1956 applied to these proceedings. While Haridas Mundhra and his brother Tulsidas Mundhra filed Appeal No. 296, the Life Insurance Corporation of India, hereafter referred to as the appellant, filed Appeal No. 299. Due to its substantial holdings in British India Corporation Ltd., which included 15,285 preference shares valued at Rs. 100 each and 750,633 fully paid-up ordinary shares valued at Rs. 5, the appellant filed for bankruptcy on May 16, 1958. Under Section 399(4) of the Act, the Central Government had granted the appellant permission to petition the court under Sections 397 and 398. The petition sought a number of reliefs, such as the removal of directors Haridas Mundhra, Tulsidas Mundhra, Narendrajit Singh, Rai Bahadur Ram Narain, K.B. Daga, Hyder Hussain, and H. Hill from the board of directors; an interim injunction to prevent these respondents from acting as directors; steps to call a shareholder meeting to elect a new board of directors; the appointment of a special officer; an investigation into the Corporation’s affairs and the respondents’ actions to determine losses incurred by the Corporation; and any other orders deemed necessary. The conversation now shifts to the legal issues raised by these appeals, noting that the learned business judge has rejected relief under Section 543 (Schedule XI) because there hasn’t been a separate application filed under that clause. It has also been agreed that the three transactions under dispute before us are not covered by any of the lawsuits currently proceeding in the civil courts.


  1. At the request of the appellant, an investigation into the business dealings of the British India Corporation and its subsidiary, Messrs. Begg Sutherland and Company Private Limited, was started in order to ascertain whether it was appropriate to look into the subsidiary’s operations in connection with the Corporation’s management in accordance with Sections 397 and 398 of the Companies Act, 1956.
  2. Taking into thought the Corporation’s extensive operations, the learned corporate judge dismissed the previous board of directors and appointed a temporary board of management.
  3. The judge’s conclusions included that the Corporation’s affairs were managed against its interests, requiring court intervention for management restructuring; there was no Section 543 relief available because no separate application was filed, there was insufficient proof of directors’ wrongdoing, and important individuals were not implicated; and there were ongoing lawsuits in civil courts pertaining to the matter. The decision made by the judge infuriated the appellant as well as the other parties, which caused appeals.
  4. The appellant’s attorney general made the decision to pursue Section 543 claims against particular people (Haridas Mundhra, Tulsidas Mundhra, Narendrajit Singh, and Hyder Hussain) rather than pursue Section 397 litigation.
  5. In an indication of a cohesive operation with its subsidiary, the board of the corporation decided to give up the managing agency of some companies without payment.
  6. For ownership, control, financing, and transparency purposes, holding corporations and their subsidiaries are treated as a single entity under provisions such as Sections 294 and 369 of the Act.
  7. Despite receiving initial financial backing, H.D. Mundhra withdrew significant amounts, which resulted in him using Rs. 25,00,000 from the Corporation for personal gain without interest. and despite receiving initial financial assistance, he withdrew substantial amounts, placing a financial burden on the Corporation and its subsidiaries.
  8. The financial data from the exhibits shows the financial problem and the subsidiary’s reliance on the Corporation’s cash by revealing the fluctuating financial contributions made by the Corporation and H.D. Mundhra.


  1. In May of 1958, the appellant filed a petition under Sections 397 and 398 of the Act, omitting Section 543.
  2. Relief sought implied proceedings under Section 543, while there was no formal application, about compensation for misapplication, misfeasance, breach of trust, or activities detrimental to the company’s interests.
  3. H.L. Khanna was appointed as the Corporation’s receiver after State Bank of India filed a lawsuit against the Corporation in December 1957 to recover unpaid debt.
  4. The appellant filed an application under Section 403, and on May 16, 1958, the court ordered an injunction against the directors.
  5. On May 23, 1958, Sri H.S. Chaturvedi took over as board chairman, succeeding H.D. Mundhra.
  6. A temporary board of directors was formed on November 26, 1958, with 10 members, including R.L. Powell and Sri H.S. Chaturvedi, who served as chairman and managing director.
  7. Through affidavits or written comments, Haridas Mundhra, Tulsidas Mundhra, Rai Bahadur Ram Narain, and Narendrajit Singh opposed the petition.
  8. In compliance with Section 402 of the Act, the Central Government submitted a representation.
  9. The Central Government and the appellant were represented by the Solicitor-General, who concentrated on wrongdoing involving the Samastipur Central Sugar Co. Ltd., Balrampur Sugar Co. Ltd., and Cawnpore Cotton Mills.
  10. H.D. Mundhra refuted the accusations, pointing to Roop Narain Ram Chandra (P.) Ltd.’s unstable finances and asserting that he had not misled the board.
  11. Narendrajit Singh and Hyder Hussain met as a board on July 20, 1957, to discuss plans to sell unsold stock and Hari Das Mundhra’s promises of financial support, citing promises made to Minister of Commerce and Industries Morarji Desai.


In the complex case involving the British India Corporation Limited and its entanglement with H.D. Mundhra, various critical incidents unfolded between 1956 and 1958, highlighting issues of corporate governance, mismanagement, and financial impropriety. The controversy began with a failed deal in March 1957, when Mundhra, along with prospective buyers including Jamunadas Kayan, agreed to purchase Samastipur shares but later reneged, causing significant financial losses to the Corporation. Mundhra’s mismanagement as chairman during this period led to scrutiny, particularly after his decisions resulted in financial distress for the Corporation, notably through ill-advised financial transactions and share dealings. For instance, on October 21, 1957, Mundhra was authorized to negotiate the sale of Balrampur shares, and by October 26, the board, with Mundhra and other directors like Narendrajit Singh and Tulsi Das Mundhra, approved the sale at inflated prices. Similarly, discussions on November 30 regarding Samastipur shares and the management of Kanpur Cotton Mills in April and May 1957, where Mundhra pushed for decisions that favored buyers at the Corporation’s expense, underscored his undue influence.

Mundhra’s role was further complicated by his failure to comply with a court order for cross-examination related to document discovery requests, leading to his counter-affidavit being treated only as a written statement. Despite this, Mundhra and other directors defended their actions, claiming decisions were made in good faith. However, the transactions, particularly the pressured sale of shares to alleviate the Corporation’s financial crisis, raised questions about fiduciary duty breaches, especially when Mundhra bought shares at much lower prices than sold to the company, leading to suspicions of unfair gain.

The saga also involved the misjudged handling of the failed share purchase contract with Kayan, where Mundhra, despite conflicts of interest, presided over board meetings and failed to secure compensation for the Corporation’s losses. By June 5, 1957, the board, without sufficient evidence of participation or negligence from other directors like Tulsidas Mundhra, decided to find new buyers, indicating no pursuit of loss compensation from Mundhra.

This period of mismanagement and financial oversight culminated in legal scrutiny and the establishment of an interim management committee criticized for including Narendrajit Singh from the previous negligent board. Despite the controversies, decisions such as the non-liability of directors for the Kanpur Cotton Mills’ sale, based on their dilemma between sale and securing a loan, and the reduction of court-appointed directors’ terms to end in January 1963, were aimed at rectifying the governance and oversight failures without excessively prolonging court supervision, emphasizing the importance of proper management and fiduciary responsibilities in corporate governance.


The Life Insurance Corporation of India v. Hari Das Mundhra and Others case points out the difficulties and ambiguities that come with corporate governance and the application of directive obligations. In spite of noting the serious financial mismanagement and fiduciary responsibility violations committed by H.D. Mundhra and other directors, the case’s verdict further reiterated the necessity of strict corporate governance and accountability procedures. A precedent for handling financial wrongdoing is established by the case, which suggests the importance of ethical management and openness in business operations by negotiating the complexities of corporate law. on the final day, the result of this legal dispute provides an essential lesson on the value of strong corporate governance frameworks to protect stakeholders’ interests.

AUTHOR – Disha Sable

1st year Student at RTMNU’S Babasaheb Ambedkar College of Law, Nagpur



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