The Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debt Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Act, 2016 (the Act) received assent of the President on August 12, 2016 and was published in the Gazette on August 16, 2016. It will come into effect from such date(s) as may be notified by the Central Government. The Act makes far reaching changes to the way securitisation and reconstruction companies are regulated, as well as the category of financial assets and the secured creditors to whom non- judicial remedies and access to debt recovery tribunals are available. We try to examine this through this short post.
The question of the enforceability of contractual restrictions on transfer of shares of Indian public limited companies (Companies) has been the subject matter of various decisions by Indian courts. The Indian legislature has also examined this aspect, which has resulted in a change in the relevant legislation. Through this post, we examine the position as it stands today.
The debate on the enforceability of shareholder agreements and joint venture agreements governing Companies garnered significant attention in early 2010 when a single judge of the Bombay High Court (Bombay HC) set aside an arbitral award in a 2010 decision in Western Maharashtra Development Corporation Ltd. v. Bajaj Auto Ltd. The judgment indicated that the shares of a Company could not be fettered, were freely transferable and as such, any restriction on free transferability would be a violation of section 111A of the erstwhile Companies Act, 1956 (1956 Act).
A Brief Background
Sexual harassment at the workplace was first recognized as a violation of basic human rights by India’s apex court, the Supreme Court (SC) in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (Vishaka Judgment) in 1997. In its judgement, the SC opined that sexual harassment was violative of the fundamental rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution of India, 1950 including the constitutionally guaranteed rights to life, equality, dignity and to practice any profession/carry on any occupation, trade or business. Accordingly, and in the absence of specific legislation at that time, the SC had enunciated guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace.
Amidst much anticipation, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion released Press Note 3 (PN3) in March of 2016 (now incorporated in the Consolidated FDI Policy dated June 7, 2016) to clarify its stand on the subject of foreign direct investment (FDI) in e-commerce. This post is an attempt to highlight certain issues arising out of PN3 in relation to the use of the term ‘services’, which may not only impact the e-commerce players but may also extend to other businesses which utilize electronic platforms.
Through the release of PN3, the Department clarified its stance on two key aspects: (a) FDI is permitted in the ‘marketplace model of e-commerce’ under the automatic route (i.e., without prior approval); and (b) FDI is prohibited in the ‘inventory based model of e-commerce.
From time to time, concerns have been raised by entrepreneurs and various Indian and international surveys about the challenges faced by start-ups and other companies doing business in India. India has also been rated very low on charts concerning ease of doing business.
India is a vast country with several states and union territories, which presents differences in culture, language, faith and food habits. But doing business in India also means complying with a long list of Central (Federal) and State statutes and their varied interpretations. In addition, judicial pronouncements of concerned High Courts and the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India must be taken into consideration.
Regulatory compliance with several laws is time consuming and complicated, adding to the financial and intellectual burden on start-ups. This, in turn, shifts their focus from development and growth of the core business to ensuring compliance with laws.
As a result, laws, rather than acting as a catapult and augmenting the growth of businesses, force several start-ups to reconsider their plans/strategies concerning doing business in India.
The Indian banking system has been riddled with non performing assets (NPAs) for some time now. To help lenders, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has introduced a variety of debt restructuring policies, including the flexible structuring of project loans and the strategic debt restructuring scheme. But these schemes have met with limited success, mostly due to the lack of funds available for promoters to invest, non-cooperation on the part of the borrowers and the sub-optimal levels of operations in the relevant companies.
The lukewarm economic environment has further amplified these woes. As such, ‘bad’ loans across 40 listed banks in India had increased to Rs. 5.8 trillion (approximately USD 85.9 billion) in March 2016 from Rs. 4.38 trillion (approximately USD 64.9 billion) in December 2015. Estimates show that weak assets in the Indian banking system will reach Rs. 8 trillion (approximately USD 118.5 billion) by March 2017.
Earlier yesterday, the Prime Minister of India announced (Announcement)  a number of key changes to India’s foreign direct investment (FDI) policy, as set forth in Consolidated FDI Policy Circular of June 7, 2016 (Policy). Broadly, these changes pertain to enhancing the limits of foreign investment (FI) and easing of existing conditions regarding FI in some sectors. Through this short update post, we seek to highlight some prominent changes thus announced.
We take a look at recent re-notification and revised merger control thresholds to the Competition Act, 2002, and how they will reduce regulatory hurdles for smaller transactions and facilitate ease of doing business in India.
The Competition Act, 2002 (Act), requires mandatory notification to and prior approval of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for transactions wherecertain prescribed asset or turnover thresholds (Jurisdictional Thresholds) are exceeded. By way of a notification dated 4 March 2011 (2011 Notification), the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) enhanced the value of asset and turnover as provided in Section 5 of the Act by 50 per cent. In addition to the above, the MCA by way of notification on the same date (including a corrigendum dated 27 May 2011) also introduced a de minimis exemption in case of an acquisition. The said notifications contained a validity period of five years and were set to expire on 3 March 2016.
The Early Years
With the creation of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in 1992, the existence of the Controller of Capital Issues (CCI) which was overseeing Indian capital markets was rendered redundant. However, the pricing guidelines issued by the CCI (PG) assumed greater importance despite CCI’s redundancy, given India’s intent to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). This was especially as most FDI transactions were in the unlisted entity space whereas SEBI was regulating listed entities. As such, the PG formulated by the CCI became the guiding principle for various investments into India. As per Reserve Bank of India (RBI) stipulations, the fair value of shares (FV) to be issued/ transferred to non residents (NRs) was to be determined by a chartered accountant (CA), in accordance the PG formula laid down by the CCI.
The rationale behind these stipulations was to garner maximum value and forex for Indian shares and was resultant of the 1991 crisis on balance of payments faced by India. Principles laid down in Press Notes 18/ 1998 and 1/2005 were also aimed at strengthening Indian promoters. In so far as outgo of currency was concerned, regulatory supervision was exercised to ensure that such outflow would be heavily regulated and minimised. This mindset continued to operate in the new millennium even as substantial liberalisation of sectors took place (in the context of FDI) and even when the context changed from regulation of forex to maintenance thereof.
A Brief Conceptual Background
The discourse on corporate governance has been garnering considerable attention in the public domain in India, mainly due to the introduction of the Companies Act, 2013 (“Act”), the steps being taken by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) in promoting governance, and the escalating activism of shareholders and proxy advisory firms (“PAFs”) in the public markets.
The corporate governance regime in India has been implemented mostly reactively, thus far. One of the reasons could be the prevalence of the family-owned businesses in India which present a distinct and additional set of governance concerns such as safeguarding the interests of minority shareholders, the fiduciary duty (if any) of the promoter(s) to minority shareholders and the duties of the board of directors in conflict situations. As such, this feature may have effectively prevented Indian regulators from adopting the governance frameworks implemented in more evolved jurisdictions like the UK or the USA. Even Germany, where the corporate ecosystem is comprised of large family-owned businesses like India, could not have an appropriate reference point for Indian regulators, given the board structures there. To elaborate, German corporations have adopted a two-tier board structure whereby representation is mandatorily available to employees on the upper tier (supervisory) board. As such, this prevalence of family owned concerns could have been one of the reasons why the Indian corporate governance regime has largely remained prescriptive and reactive.