Do We Really Need the “Approval” Route?

The announcement in the Budget Speech that the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) is going to be wound down in 2017-18, has led to speculation amongst consultants, lawyers, foreign investors and the media as to what will take its place. After all, the FIPB, an institution that has been around for more than two decades, epitomises, inter alia, the “government approval” route for foreign investment in sensitive sectors and has been the bedrock of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Policy. It has been the “go-to” body for approvals, clarifications, waivers of conditions and post facto approvals of transgressions, etc.

After successive liberalisations, the “approval route “ now accounts for only 10% or so of the FDI inflows and, therefore, the real question to ask should not be as to how or which agency(ies) will give the required approval for FDI in the sensitive sectors, but whether approval is required at all. Following from my earlier blog piece on “FIPB – The Sunset Year”, I would like to make the case that in the sectors, currently still under the FIPB route as per the contours of the FDI policy, an FDI approval per se is not required at all.

FDI Approval an Additional Layer

First, it may be observed that in the approval route sectors, the FIPB approval forms only one layer of approval, even though the FIPB process is indeed “single window” (in the sense that it brings all the stakeholders to the table). There is another very vital approval required from the administrative ministry, the regulator or the licensor concerned, which gives the operating license/approval. This includes the allocation of the resource (spectrum/ airwaves/mine etc.) as per the laid down procedures. This is true for all the extant FIPB mandated sectors viz. mining, telecom, defence, media, etc, except single brand and multi-brand trading (this has been discussed later). The policy also prescribes follow-on FIPB approvals for changes in ownership, additional capital etc in these “licensed sectors”. The need for engagement by two separate government layers is clearly debatable.

Foreign Ownership is Not a Concern

Second, also as a result of the periodic liberalisation of the FDI Policy, the sectoral cap in nearly all the approval route sectors has gone up progressively along the usual pattern of 26% to 49% to 51% over the years and now stands at 74% or even 100%[1] in some cases. This clearly implies that in respect of these sectors, where the FDI sectoral cap is at 51% or above, there are no real concerns as regards to foreign ownership and control of entities from a sectoral perspective. In such a situation, therefore, the exact percentage of foreign investment in an entity becomes merely a matter of record, rather than one requiring a formal approval from a high powered government inter-ministerial body.

Continue Reading FIPB – The Rites of Passage

The Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has, over the years, undertaken initiatives to align reporting and disclosure requirements for listed companies in India with global standards, including alignment with the principles prescribed by the International Organization of Securities Commissions. On February 6, 2017, SEBI issued a circular on Integrated Reporting by Listed Entities (SEBI Circular) to strengthen disclosure standards of listed Indian companies.

What is Integrated Reporting?

Integrated reporting is a principle-based reporting framework that was developed by the IIRC. Companies in various countries globally including Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia have adopted integrated reporting.

The primary purpose of an Integrated Report is to provide stakeholders with details in relation to the following: (i) functioning of an organisation; (ii) the value created by an organisation over time; and (iii) various external factors that affect the organisation. The Framework sets out certain fundamental concepts and guiding principles that should be considered while preparing an Integrated Report.

Continue Reading Streamlining Reporting Standards

The Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act, 1985 (SICA) was enacted to make special provisions for the timely detection of sick (and potentially sick) companies owning industrial undertakings. The Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) was formed under the SICA to determine the sickness of such industrial companies and to prescribe measures either for the revival of potentially viable units or the closure of unviable companies.

With effect from December 1, 2016, the SICA has been repealed by the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Repeal Act, 2003 (“Repeal Act”). This has resulted in the dissolution of the BIFR and other bodies formed under the SICA.[1] Continue Reading Repeal of Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act, 1985

There is a perception that arbitration proceedings in India are plagued with delays, interventionist courts, and parties attempting to scuttle the proceedings. A mere allegation of fraud was often enough to obstruct an arbitration proceeding on the ground that the criminality underlying the fraud would render the dispute non-arbitrable. This is no longer the case.

A major factor in making arbitration proceedings efficient is minimal judicial intervention. However, parties often subvert and delay arbitral proceedings by raising the ground that the nature of the dispute is non arbitrable. For instance, when commercial relations go sour leading to disputes, parties routinely make allegations of fraud. This was then used as a ground to force the dispute out of arbitration and into the traditional court system. This relied upon the Supreme Court’s decision in N. Radhakrishnan v. Maestro Engineering[2], that disputes involving allegations of fraud are incapable of being adjudicated by an arbitral tribunal. The subsequent decision in Swiss Timing v. Organising Committee[3], took a contrary view to N. Radhakrishnan. These contradictory decisions left the issue open and continued the uncertainty around the viability of domestic arbitrations as an effective dispute resolution mechanism.

The issue now stands settled. The Supreme Court in the recent decision of A. Ayyasami v. A. Paramasivam[4] has held that a mere allegation of fraud will not render disputes non-arbitrable. Continue Reading Mere Allegation of Fraud – No longer an Obstruction to Arbitration Proceedings

In the Budget Speech of February 1, 2017, the Finance Minister (FM) announced that the Government has “decided to abolish the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) in 2017-18”. He also announced that the roadmap for the same is expected to be announced in the next few months, and in the meantime, “further liberalisation of FDI policy is under consideration.”

Considering that the “Approval Route” now forms only 10% or so of the FDI inflow, this decision appears logical. It is ironic, however, that this announcement should be hailed as a step to further improve “ease of doing business”, when the FIPB actually stands for “promotion of foreign investment”. Continue Reading FIPB – The Sunset Year

On December 7, 2016, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) notified and brought into operation a significant chunk of sections under the Companies Act, 2013, including provisions relating to compromises, arrangements, reconstructions, mergers and amalgamations, with effect from December 15, 2016 (the Notification). This marks a paradigm shift in the corporate restructuring process, which is all set to undergo a transition from the earlier restructuring processes under the aegis of the High Courts, to National Company Law Tribunals (NCLTs), constituted with effect from June 1, 2016.

The MCA notified the Companies (Removal of Difficulties) Fourth Order, 2016, and the Companies (Transfer of Proceedings), Rules, 2016, on the same date as the Notification, clarifying that proceedings relating to schemes will stand transferred, forthwith, except where orders have been reserved. While applicants with final hearings on or before December 14, 2016, who were expecting orders to be reserved, heaved a sigh of relief, other applicants were caught in a limbo, while prospective applicants were left to surmise, and gear up for implementation of the new provisions, yet to be tested by NCLTs. The Notification was soon followed, on December 14, 2016, by the Companies (Compromises, Arrangements and Amalgamations) Rules, 2016, on sanction of schemes by NCLTs. Continue Reading National Company Law Tribunal: In the Scheme of Things

One of the key tenets of effective corporate governance is the ability of a corporation to promote transparency. Transparency and accountability is strengthened not just by efficient management and robust disclosure policies, but also by the creation of systems and processes to detect and address internal instances of fraud and corruption.

Whistleblowing has always played a distinct role in making companies alert to, and mindful of, employee conduct as well as internal processes and procedures. The existence of this class of facilitators is well recognised in the Indian legislative framework. Under section 177(9) of the Companies Act, 2013, it is mandatory for every listed company to establish a vigilant mechanism for directors and employees. Furthermore, the revised clause 49 of the listing agreement mandates that the company must establish a whistleblower mechanism with adequate safeguards against victimisation of whistleblowers.

Whilst immensely beneficial, tipping off/whistleblowing comes with its own set of unique challenges for the company, the alleged wrongdoer as well as whistleblowers themselves. While there is no ‘one size fits all’, certain aspects, as detailed below, should be considered by any company seeking to establish a whistleblower mechanism: Continue Reading Who Can Hear The Whistle Blow? Whistleblowing And Its Impact On Corporate Governance In India

2017 is upon us, but many readers seem to have missed some very important and progressive changes to the Maharashtra Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948 (Act) made last year on 1 January 2016! Two sections (63, and 63-1A) of the Act govern the ability to sell and buy agricultural lands (AL) for non-agricultural (NA) use.

Here is a comparative note on the pre-amendment and post-amendment law under Section 63-1A affecting AL bought for NA bona fide industrial use. Continue Reading Using Agricultural Lands for Non-Agricultural Purposes in Maharashtra – Important 2016 Amendments

On November 15, 2016, the Supreme Court delivered an important judgment in IDBI Trusteeship Services Limited v. Hubtown Ltd[1], a case involving investment in India by a foreign investor. While the main thrust of the judgment was on circumstances under which a defendant may be granted leave to defend in a suit for summary judgment, the observations of the court in the context of the structure in consideration provides important indicators as to how courts should look at structured transactions.

In brief, the facts of the case are as follows. FMO, a non-resident foreign entity, made an investment into an Indian company, Vinca Developer Private Limited (Vinca) by way of compulsorily convertible debentures (CCPS) and equity shares. The CCPS were to convert into 99% of the voting shares of Vinca. The proceeds of the investment were further invested by Vinca in its wholly owned subsidiaries, Amazia Developers Private Limited (Amazia) and Rubix Trading Private Limited (Rubix) by way of optionally convertible debentures (OPCDs) bearing a fixed rate of interest. IDBI Trusteeship Services Ltd. (Debenture Trustee) was appointed as a debenture trustee in relation to the OPCDs, acting for the benefit of Vinca. Hubtown Limited (Hubtown) also issued a corporate guarantee in favour of the Debenture Trustee to secure the OPCDs. Continue Reading IDBI Trusteeship v. Hubtown – Supreme Court Gives a Fillip to Structured Investments

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favourite things…”

Hearing my niece practice this iconic song made me introspect on the year gone by. So, here are select highlights of 2016 from the Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) industry perspective.

  1. Regulatory developments
  • 2016 started with Report 1 of the Alternative Investment Policy Advisory Committee (AIPAC), and drew to a close with Report 2 of the AIPAC in December 2016. SEBI amended the AIF regulations in November 2016 to implement recommendations relating to Angel Funds. Our last post covers key recommendations made by AIPAC in Report 2. AIPAC has rightly focussed on structural and evolutionary changes needed for the AIF industry and thus 2017 will be the year to implement or build on these recommendations.
  • In February 2016, subject to certain conditions, RBI permitted NRIs to invest in AIFs on a non-repatriation basis and for investments to be treated at par with investments by residents.
  • In April 2016, the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority permitted pension funds to invest in Category I and Category II AIFs subject to various conditions. However, these conditions have effectively stymied pension fund investing in Category II AIFs. AIPAC reports recommend the liberalisation of regulations to allow investments in AIFs by pension funds, insurance companies, banks and others.
  • In April 2016, RBI amended the Foreign Venture Capital Investor (FVCI) regime under FEMA 20 to provide, inter alia, that FVCIs registered under the SEBI (FVCI) Regulations will not require RBI approval for investments as per amended Schedule 6. The RBI notification also stipulated that FVCIs can receive the proceeds on liquidation of venture capital funds (VCFs) or Category I AIFs. However, RBI’s October 2016 circular was a sting in the tail. That circular stated that downstream investment by VCFs / Category I AIFs that have been invested into by FVCIs will need to comply with Schedule 11 of FEMA 20 i.e. such downstream investments shall be subject to the sectoral caps and conditions under the foreign direct investment (FDI) policy.
  • In September 2016, RBI amended FEMA 20 to permit 100% FDI in ‘other financial services’ industry subject to conditions prescribed by the relevant regulator and FDI in entities conducting unregulated or partially regulated financial services (FS) activities with the prior approval of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). While this liberalisation was eagerly awaited, the language of the notification stirred up concerns surrounding the interpretation of ‘regulated FS activities’. For example, would FDI in an AIF manager which is exempt from registration under SEBI (Investment Advisers) Regulations require FIPB approval? Or would FDI in an Indian advisor to an offshore PE fund or Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) manager qualify for the automatic route?

Continue Reading 2016, The AIF Industry In Retrospect