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  • Kushagra Tolambia, Sakshi Tiwari

Safeguarding Minority Rights and Combating Misconduct: A Deep Dive into Sections 241 and 242 of the Companies Act 2013

[Kushagra and Sakshi are students at Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University.]

Chapter XVI of the Companies Act 2013 (Act) stands as a crucial watchdog for minority shareholders, as it covers Sections 241 and 242 which deal with issues concerning corporate oppression and mismanagement which remain uncompromisable for safeguarding shareholder interests and ensuring good corporate governance.

Section 241 empowers individuals to apply to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) for redressal against oppression and mismanagement. It broadly characterizes "oppression" as actions detrimental to the company's interests or any shareholder group, while "mismanagement" includes severe disruption of the activities or ongoing misconduct in the company's affairs. Importantly, the law acknowledges both derivative actions, representing the company, and individual actions initiated by disgruntled shareholders. Furthermore, this provision's strength lies in its individual elements establishing which anyone secures the shareholder's case. While Section 242 arms the NCLT with diverse remedial powers, ranging from dissolving the company to tailoring voting rights, adjusting management, or awarding compensation. This adaptability ensures bespoke solutions to each unique situation, emphasizing the importance of considering each element separately. Therefore, a comprehensive analysis necessitates the separate consideration of each of these elements.

Oppression Remedy as a Pillar of Shareholder Remedies

Evolution of the remedy

The current protection against oppressive shareholder conduct in Indian company law provided by Section 241 of the Act, has a long and winding history which can be traced back to a similar provision in the Company Act 1913 (1913 Act), which itself was inspired by the British law. Over time, this remedy has been refined and strengthened, with the inclusion of Section 397 in the Companies Act 1956 (1956 Act) based on recommendations from the Cohen Committee.


Tracing back, the Section 397'oppression remedy became a pivotal element in shareholder remedies in India for over 50 years while the jurisprudence developed by Indian courts took reference from the principles of its English counterpart, Section 210. The language alignment between Section 241 and Section 397 suggests a continued applicability of established jurisprudence in the current domain.

Understanding the restrictive scope of "oppression"

The absence of a statutory definition for "oppression" in the statute has prompted courts to interpret it contextually, relying on case-specific facts and circumstances. It draws guidance from the English cases such as, Elder v. Elder and Watson and Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited v. Meyer which emphasized that oppressive conduct involves a visible departure from fair dealing standards, excluding mere loss of confidence or deadlock.

In addressing specific issues, courts have clarified that a petitioning shareholder is required to prove the illegality of the offending conduct for an oppression claim. The focus is on whether the action is oppressive, even if legally permissible.

A subtle but striking difference in wording between the two key anti-oppression provisions has sparked debate. While the older law spoke of actions "being conducted", the newer one adds "have been", possibly hinting at a wider scope. However, a recent court ruling in Tata Consultancy Services Limited v. Cyrus Investments Private Limited seems to temper this expansion. To which the courts have again clarified and established that the oppression remedy applies when petitioners suffer in their capacity as members, not as directors, imposing additional challenges on shareholders making an oppression claim. Despite interpretive questions, Indian courts have established clarity over the years, exemplified by principles outlined in VS Krishnan v. Westfort Hi-tech Hospital Limited.

Prejudice in Section 241: A Distinct Remedy

Section 241 of the Act introduced a novel dimension by incorporating language that allows petitioning shareholders to take legal action if the company's affairs are conducted in a manner "prejudicial to him or any other member or members." This represented a significant departure from Section 397 of the 1956 Act, which focused primarily on oppression. The legislative shift in Section 241(1)(a) thus supplements the existing oppression remedy with a distinct remedy for prejudice.

Distinctive Nature of the prejudice remedy

The language of Section 241(1)(a) clearly delineates the prejudice remedy from the oppression remedy, using the terms "prejudicial or oppressive" disjunctively. This allows a petitioner shareholder under the Act to demonstrate either oppression, prejudice, or both, providing flexibility in legal recourse. The inclusion of "prejudice" in Section 241, without clear legislative justification, has left its purpose shrouded in ambiguity.

The evolution of the oppression remedy under Section 397 of the 1956 Act draws from English jurisprudence, particularly the Jenkins Committee's recommendation for an "unfair prejudice" remedy. In England, the "unfair prejudice" remedy replaced the oppression remedy, incorporating both unfairness and prejudice considerations. However, the Indian legislative approach diverges on two significant points. First, in India, oppression and prejudice coexist as separate remedies, offering petitioning shareholders greater options. Second, the Act in India exclusively refers to "prejudice" without incorporating the concept of unfairness, potentially lowering the burden on petitioning shareholders compared to English law. The introduction of the "prejudice" remedy in Section 241(1)(a) without explicit legislative guidance places the onus on Indian courts to establish guiding principles for its interpretation.

Jurisprudential dimensions of "prejudice" in Section 241

Drawing parallels with English law, the term "unfair prejudice" in the English Companies Act 1948 necessitates a stringent approach, requiring both prejudicial and unfairly detrimental conduct. English courts scrutinize whether the offender's actions entail "commercial unfairness," considering whether petitioning shareholders possess legitimate expectations beyond statutory rights. This precedent emphasizes a comprehensive evaluation of both conduct and impact.

Indian courts confront a crucial choice in interpreting the scope of the prejudice remedy under Section 241. Three conceivable approaches emerge:

First, there may be a literal Interpretation which focuses solely on the impact on petitioning shareholders. The implication of this approach, while seemingly favourable to petitioners, risks diluting the oppression remedy and inundating courts with prejudicial litigation.

Second, a stringent interpretation can be adopted, the effect of which can be seen in incorporating the principles of fairness and equitable considerations, akin to English law. This balances the need for a lower bar than “oppression” without sacrificing the essence of the remedy.

Third and lastly, there can be a noscitur a sociis approach which deals with considering the term "prejudice" in conjunction with "oppression." It recognizes the legislative history and aligns with the concept of oppression.

Irrespective of the chosen approach, the determination of “prejudice” hinges on case-specific facts. The application of fairness in the context of prejudice demands judicious consideration. As Hoffmann, LJ remarked in the O’Neill v. Phillips, "the concept of fairness must be applied judicially," highlighting the court's broad discretion. Given the novelty of the prejudice remedy, clarity on principles awaits judicial scrutiny, making it imperative to await reasoned guidance from the judiciary.

Mismanagement Remedy: Section 241(1)(b)

The unique mismanagement remedy, enshrined in Section 241(1)(b) of the Act, lacks a direct English counterpart. Its origins trace back to Section 398 of the 1956 Act, a result of the Bhabha Report's reflection on the limitations of the oppression provision in the English Companies Act 1948. The report proposed an expanded scope, encompassing not only oppression to a minority but also instances of gross mismanagement beyond the purview of other statutory provisions.

Conditions for mismanagement remedy

The mismanagement remedy operates when two essential conditions are — material change in management or control which can occur through alterations in the board, managerial structure, or ownership of the company etc., and prejudicial conduct arising from the change which includes that the change must be the reason behind the company's affairs being conducted in a manner prejudicial to its interests or those of its shareholders. This establishes the consequential effect linking the change to the adverse impact on the company or its shareholders.

The remedy surpasses oppression

The mismanagement remedy, as delineated in Section 241(1)(b), surpasses the oppression remedy in both language and rationale. Unlike its precursor in the 1956 Act, which solely applied if the change was prejudicial to the company's interest, the Act broadens the scope to include changes prejudicial to shareholders or any specific class.


Section 241, which deals with shareholder protection in India, has come a long way since its colonial roots. It has also expanded its scope by introducing the concept of "prejudice" alongside traditional oppression, demonstrating a commitment to addressing various unfair practices. The ongoing discussions in courts about what constitutes "oppression" highlight the importance of finding a balanced interpretation that considers both literal meanings and the broader principles of fairness. What makes Section 241 particularly powerful is its inclusion of the idea of mismanagement, a concept specific to India. This uniquely Indian concept significantly amplifies the statute's efficacy, extending protection beyond instances of oppression to shield shareholders from deleterious shifts in corporate control. This addition broadens the scope of protection, ensuring shareholders are safeguarded not just from oppression but also from harmful changes in corporate control.

In essence, Section 241 provides shareholders with a versatile set of tools to respond to different forms of corporate abuse. It is not just a legal remedy but a crucial element in maintaining good governance within Indian corporations, giving shareholders the means to uphold fairness and accountability.r

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