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

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

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).

Continue Reading Enforceability of Contractual Restrictions on Transfer of Shares