Photo of Bharat Vasani

Partner in the  General Corporate and TMT Practice at the Mumbai office of Cyril Amarchand Managaldas. Bharat has over 30 years of experience at senior management level. His areas of specialization includes company law, corporate and commercial laws, securities law, capital market, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, media & entertainment law, competition law, employment law and property matters. He heads firm’s media and entertainment law practice.  He is highly regarded in Government circles and in various industry organizations for his proactive approach on public policy issues. Bharat was a member of the Expert Committee appointed by the Government of India to revise the Companies Act, 2013.

Prior to joining the Firm, Bharat was the Group General Counsel of the Tata Group.  He has been at the helm of and steered several large key M&A transactions pursued by the Tata Group in the last 17 years.

Bharat’s contribution to the legal fraternity has been recognized by the Harvard Law School’s Award for Professional Excellence in 2016. Bharat has won several other national and international awards for his various achievements. He had a brilliant academic record in law and first rank holder in all India company secretary examination. He can be reached at bharat.vasani@cyrilshroff.com

GOI Notification of 12th November on Digital Media - The Beginning of the Regulatory Journey for the Digital Space?

On November 09, 2020, the President of India issued a notification under Article 77(3) of the Constitution amending the Govt of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961, according to which the Information & Broadcasting  Ministry (“I&B Ministry”) will now have the power to regulate and formulate policies, issue orders, instructions, notifications etc., pertaining to online news portals and content on Over the Top (“OTT”) platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar and many more (“Notification”).
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Vicarious Liability of Non-Executive Directors - A Case for Reform of Law

Context:

The vicarious liability provisions have been evolving ever since the evolution of law of torts. “Offence by companies” is a standard vicarious liability provision in most statutes, which is often used to fasten the liability on directors for the acts and omissions of the company. These vicarious liability provisions are borrowed from colonial-era laws and incorporated in our domestic legislations. As a rule, there is no concept of vicarious liability in criminal law. Such provisions imposing liability on directors for acts/ omissions of the company are present in most statutes.

The vicarious liability provisions have a standard language providing that the person-in-charge of and responsible for the conduct of the business of the company at the time of the commission of the offence, as well as other officers are liable for that offence. However, those provisions do not make a distinction between Managing Directors (“MDs”)/ Executive Directors (“EDs”) and Non-Executive Directors (“NEDs”)/ Independent Directors (“IDs”).
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Arm’s Length Pricing -Navigational Tools for the Audit Committee

India has one of the most detailed set of laws and regulations governing disclosures and approvals of related party transactions (RPT) regulating both listed and unlisted companies. The provisions of Section 188 of the Companies Act, 2013 (the Act) are applicable if:

  1. a company enters into a transaction with a ‘related party’ as defined under Section 2(76) of the Act;
  2. such transaction falls under any of the categories specified under sub-clause (a) to (g) of Section 188(1) of the Act, an approval of the board of directors will be required prior to entering into such transaction; and
  3. such transaction exceeds the monetary thresholds prescribed under Rule 15(3) of the Companies (Meeting of Board and its Powers) Rules, 2014, prior approval of the shareholders will also be required by way of an ordinary resolution.

Regulation 23 of the SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (LODR) provides that all material RPTs require shareholder approval through an ordinary resolution and no related party entity shall vote to approve such resolutions whether the entity is a related party to the particular transaction or not. However, all RPTs, whether material or not, require approval of the audit committee.
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Corporate Frauds – Emerging Legal Architecture & Judicial Trends

Corporate scandals and frauds in India are as old as the hills. The 1950s witnessed the infamous LIC/ Mundhra scam, which was the first major financial fraud of the independent India. Frauds continued with an alarming regularity thereafter in every decade – the infamous Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parekh, Sahara, and Satyam scams are just a few of them. These frauds were investigated by the law enforcement agencies under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). The Companies Act, 1956 did not have any separate definition of ‘fraud’. Legally, it was not necessary to have a separate one as Lord Macaulay’s IPC adequately dealt with all such crimes. The Companies Bill, 2008 was the original legislative proposal to replace the Companies Act, 1956 basis Dr. J.J. Irani Committee Report (Irani Report). The Irani report did not have any recommendation for a provision like Section 447 dealing with frauds. It seems the intervening major corporate scandals of 2007-08 led the Parliamentary Standing Committee to recommend two new legislative changes:
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ESOPS as Managerial Remuneration - Do Regulators Need to Revisit Regulatory Architecture

Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOPs) are a well-recognised method of compensating employees and attracting and retaining the best talent. Compensation in the form of equity shares helps in creating a sense of ownership in the mind of employees. Benefit schemes for employees, including ESOPs, have gained popularity, especially in technology start-ups that have limited financial resources in the initial years, but want to attract the best talent. ESOPs are the option or a right, but not an obligation, which is offered by a company to its employees to purchase its shares at a pre-determined price in the future. ESOPs align the interest of the employees with long term interest of the companies and play a vital role in retaining employees at the growing stage of the company.

Section 2(37) of the Companies Act, 2013 (“Act”), defines ‘employees’ stock option’ as the option given to directors, officers or employees of a company or of its holding company or subsidiary company or companies, if any, which gives such directors, officers or employees, the benefit or right to purchase, or to subscribe for, the shares of the company at a future date at a pre-determined price. The Act expressly prohibits ESOPs for Independent Directors[1] as the law makers believe that it compromises the ‘independence’ of such Independent Directors. Section 62(1)(b) of the Act provides for the approval of shareholders by a special resolution. Rule 12 of the Companies (Share Capital & Debentures) Rules, 2014, lays down the legal framework for issuance of ESOPs for unlisted companies. Listed companies having ESOP plans are required to comply with the SEBI (Share Based Employee Benefits) Regulations, 2014 (“ESOP Regulations”).
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SEBI report on RPTs – Deeper Reflections

SEBI had implemented the Kotak Committee recommendations on Related Party Transactions (RPTs) by making amendments to the Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements Regulations, 2015 (“LODR”) on May 9, 2018. In less than two years, in November 2019, SEBI constituted a Working Group (WG) to re-examine the RPT provisions of the LODR, against the backdrop of new corporate scandals, which surfaced, where certain abusive RPTs were undertaken by the listed entity at a subsidiary level, which were not captured by the LODR provisions. The WG Report addressed this loophole and made several recommendations, which were examined by the author in his blog article titled “SEBI Working Group on Related Party Transactions: Will the net be cast too wide? published on February 5, 2020.

In this Blog, the author wants to share his deeper reflections on some of the recommendation made in the WG report. The author argues that this WG report requires a more detailed scrutiny by the SEBI, before it is enacted into a law, by amendments to the LODR. Both these blogs should be read together to get a complete picture of the changes proposed in the WG report.
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Claw back clauses in Employment Contracts - A new tool to fight corporate misfeasance

The 2008 financial crisis made it possible to revisit contractual clauses of employees, especially those governing remunerations of executives in financial institutions. One of the clauses that gained prominence was the clause pertaining to ‘clawback’. Broadly speaking, clawback clause refers to an action for recoupment of a loss. It means the refund or return of incentive or compensation after they have been paid. The purpose of such a clause is to claim back unfair enrichment that has happened to an employee. Such a clause acts as a form of insurance and was originally applied in cases of misstatement of financial results or fraudulent acts by employees, but over time, the scope of this clause has gradually expanded.
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COVID-19 at the movies

The year 2019 had been a groundbreaking year for the Indian film industry, which saw some of its best box office performances in the past decade. As content took center stage, many films of various budgets witnessed success at the box-office. However, the year 2020 seems to be a completely different story.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in December 2019 has left the global economy in a state of mayhem. While, the true impact of COVID-19 was not truly experienced in India until early March, the country knew it was a matter of ‘when,’ and not ‘if’. By March 15, 2020 we saw the Central and State Governments introducing policies to limit social interaction, ordering shut down of establishments and taking precautionary measure to implement ‘social distancing’. The limitation on movement and a fear of contracting COVID-19 steered a large number of people away from cinema halls and into their homes, impacting the movie business within India and around the world.
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Coronavirus - COVID19- Faqs

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a “pandemic” on March 11, 2020.

The outbreak and the rapid spread of COVID-19 has sent shock waves across global markets. It has disrupted supply chains, leading to the closure of several manufacturing facilities globally; serious disruption of air and sea traffic and closure of vital air routes, like the one between the US and Europe. This is turn has led to the collapse of stock markets around the world, leading to the loss of billions of dollars, which got wiped out in a matter of days. A combination of all these factors has led to a decline in the overall volume of global economic activity, forcing the world economy towards a possible recession. It is forcing Boards across the globe to confront a host of difficult questions on how business should be conducted during a global public health crisis.
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SEBI Working Group on Related Party Transactions

 In the battle for good governance, India Inc. keeps tripping on three letters – RPT. Related-Party Transactions. This, despite the fact that India has one of the most elaborate set of rules and regulations for disclosures and approval of RPT by both listed and unlisted companies.

Historically, the Companies Act, 1956 did not specifically regulate RPTs. It had provisions that only restricted certain types of transactions.

The Companies Act, 2013 (CA, 2013) enacted Section 188, which for the first time began regulating certain types of transactions between companies and its “related parties” (as defined in CA 2013), and provided for the approval of such transactions (exceeding a prescribed monetary threshold) by non-related parties.
Continue Reading SEBI Working Group on Related Party Transactions: Will the net be cast too wide?