The Chanda Kochhar – ICICI Bank case, which was expected to have come to a closure with her unceremonious dismissal by the ICICI Bank board, after she was held guilty of having violated ICICI Bank’s code of conduct, by the Justice B. N. Srikrishna probe, is not going to be so closed. It maybe recalled that in the internal probe against her, for the period 2009 to 2018, by retired Justice Srikrishna it was held that Chanda Kochhar was in violation of the ICICI Bank code of conduct, its framework for dealing with conflict of interest and fiduciary duties and in terms of the applicable Indian laws, rules and regulations. An insider, who is in the know says that she was found to be so guilty, not once but on six occasions, by the probe.
The ICICI Bank reacted swiftly and decisively in response to the probe findings. It said that Kochhar ineffectively dealt with conflict of interest and due disclosure of recusal requirements, while sanctioning loans to the Videocon Group, where her relatives had a close business interest. The Bank thus decided to treat her resignation, as termination for a cause under its internal policies, leading to the retrieval/claw back of all bonus paid to her from April 2009 to March 2018. It also decided to revoke all her future benefits and entitlements, such as unpaid amounts, unpaid bonus, ESOPs and medical benefits. The Bank’s reaction was harsh and immediate, as it ought to be in such a case.
Chanda Kochhar responded by saying that she is disappointed, hurt and shocked by the Bank’s decision, to treat her resignation as termination for a cause and said that with all her dedication and hard work, the bank’s latest decision has caused her immense hurt and pain. The Chanda Kochhar case is now at an interesting stage. While she maybe on the defensive in the matter of the CBI, ED, SEBI and ITD action against her, it is not so in the matter of the ICICI Bank internal probe, where she is likely to be on the offensive and may drag the bank to the Courts.
The primary reason for that is the manner in which the internal probe was conducted against Chanda Kochhar and the way she was dismissed. In conducting the enquiry against her, it appears that the Bank has failed to follow the due process of law, in as much as that she has not been given an appropriate opportunity of being heard and neither was she given an opportunity to rebut the probe findings, by sharing the same with her, before they were finalised, acted upon and made public. That itself is a case of gross violation of principles of natural justice, which no court will accept. It is indeed surprising that such a glaring procedural omission took place in a probe conducted by a retired Supreme Court judge.
And if she chooses to drag ICICI Bank to Court, Chanda Kochhar will not only challenge violation of due process of law, resulting in the denial of justice to her, but will also cite in her support the earlier instances, when she was exonerated and given a clean chit by the ICICI Board, as also in an enquiry that was conducted by a top notch law firm.
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