mplications of the Finance Bill, 2020, on INVITs, REITs and its Unitholders

The Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, presented the Union Budget 2020-2021 on February 1, 2020 and consequently, introduced the Finance Bill, 2020 (“Bill”) in the Lok Sabha. The Bill comprises the financial proposals, including taxation related proposals, to amend the provisions of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (“Income-tax Act”) for the financial year 2021.

The Income-tax Act comprised provisions in relation to the taxability of, and exemptions available to, infrastructure investment trusts (“InvITs”) and real estate investment trusts (“REITs”, together with “InvITs”, referred to as “business trusts”) registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India under the Securities Exchange Board of India (Infrastructure Investment Trusts) Regulations, 2014 (“InvIT Regulations”) or the Securities Exchange Board of India (Real Estate Investment Trusts) Regulations, 2014 (“REIT Regulations”), respectively.
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Continuous disclosure obligations - Indian securities market

A regulatory environment that supports robust secondary market disclosures is critical for a well-functioning securities market. Ongoing disclosures by listed companies are being increasingly scrutinised by regulators, stock exchanges and market participants to see if timely and accurate disclosures of all material information are being made by the listed entity. Accordingly, it is important for companies to ensure that developments in their businesses translate to appropriate regulatory disclosures.

A recent example of the importance of secondary market disclosure is the Facebook case. In 2019, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced charges against Facebook Inc. (“Facebook”) for making misleading disclosures in its periodic filings against the risks pertaining to misuse of its user data by third parties. The SEC alleged that in public disclosures, Facebook presented the risk of misuse of user data as “merely hypothetical”, when they were aware that a third-party developer had actually misused Facebook user data. The SEC press release states that Facebook has agreed to pay $100 million to settle the charges.

We discuss this development and learnings for the Indian market below.
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SEBI-Streamlines-Rights-Issue-Process

The SEBI has streamlined certain aspects of the rights issue process that is expected to not only reduce the timelines but also provide clarity on the renunciation and trading of rights entitlements. These are welcome changes and will potentially make rights issues a preferred option to raise capital for listed companies.

Whilst rights issues are offerings to existing shareholders, it typically takes 55 to 58 days to complete the process (excluding SEBI review and the time taken for due diligence and drafting the offer document). The process involves (i) a minimum 15-day rights issue application period, (ii) mandatory participation by certain investors only through the non-ASBA process (such as through cheque) and (iii) a seven clear working days intimation prior to the record date. SEBI has addressed some of these concerns through amendments to the SEBI ICDR Regulations, SEBI Listing Regulations (both effective from December 26, 2019) and a circular with effect from February 14, 2020.
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Electrosteel Steels Limited v. Securities and Exchange Board of India

On November 14, 2019, almost a decade after the initial public offering of Electrosteel Steels Limited (Electrosteel), the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) delivered its judgment in Electrosteel Steels Limited v. Securities and Exchange Board of India[1] (the SAT Order). It partially upheld the judgment dated March 31, 2016 (SEBI Order) of the adjudicating officer of the Securities and Exchange Board of India[2] (SEBI). The SAT Order has discussed the concept of ‘materiality’ in the context of disclosure in offer documents.
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 Regulation 22(2A) of SEBI Takeover Regulations

A question that comes up regularly in the context of an underlying secondary transaction that triggers an open offer is whether such a transaction can be closed on the stock exchange? This is due to reservations expressed by the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in relation to the interpretation of certain provisions of the SEBI (Substantial Acquisition of Shares and Takeovers) Regulations, 2011 (Takeover Regulations).

This has led to unintended consequences, which cast a doubt on the legality of the on-market closure of underlying share purchase transactions. The shadow of this doubt unfortunately extends to on-market closures even if the on-market closure follows the completion of the open-offer process. In this blog post[1] we would like to clarify that the on-market closure of underlying transactions is not contrary to Takeover Regulations and the provisions of Takeover Regulations are not subject to multiple interpretations on this aspect.[2]
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Depository Receipts - SEBI Framework SMM

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has introduced a framework for issuance of depository receipts (DRs) by companies listed or to be listed in India ( DR Framework), by its circular dated October 10, 2019.

In the early years of liberalisation and up to the time SEBI permitted qualified institutions placement (QIPs) in 2006, DR issuances formed a significant and important part of foreign investment into the Indian equity markets. However, in the past five years, there have been very few DR issuances, for a variety of reasons including due to regulatory uncertainty around operational guidelines for DRs and concerns in relation to compliance with rules under the anti-money laundering legislation.
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Revised norms for foreign portfolio investors SEBI

The norms surrounding foreign portfolio investors have undergone continuous changes and tweaks since liberalisation. The framework introduced by Central Government was first consolidated and expanded upon by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) under the SEBI (Foreign Institutional Investors) Regulations, 1995 (1995 Regulations).

A little under a decade later, in 2014, SEBI took steps to consolidate the categories of investors previously accessing Indian capital markets – i.e., foreign institutional investors, sub-accounts and qualified foreign investors – into a single class known as ‘foreign portfolio investors’ (FPIs). SEBI also delegated the responsibility of registering such FPIs to designated depository participants (DDPs). Multiple questions arising out of the new regime were subsequently answered by SEBI in a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs), updated from time to time. The 2014 Regulations also incorporated concepts such as opaque structures and a scope of investor group, which did not find a mention in the 1995 Regulations but were introduced through notifications and instructions from SEBI.

Five years later, SEBI has issued revised norms for FPIs in terms of the SEBI (Foreign Portfolio Investors) Regulations, 2019 (2019 Regulations) with a number of changes (as suggested by the committee headed by Mr. HR Khan), some to concepts dating back to the regime under the 1995 Regulations. The 2019 Regulations also consolidate the extensive guidance and requirements prescribed by SEBI by way of amendments to the 2014 Regulations as well as circulars and FAQs issued thereunder.

This post discusses some of the key aspects of the 2019 Regulations.
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Insider Trading Hotline SEBI - Informant Mechanism

In our previous blog post, dated June 12, 2019, we discussed the Securities Exchange Board of India’s (SEBI) efforts to institutionalise an informant mechanism for insider trading, through its discussion paper released in June 2019 (Discussion Paper).

The regulator has now formalised this into law through a recent amendment to the Insider Trading Regulations, which came after a SEBI board meeting approved the informant mechanism scheme on August 21 of last month. Interestingly, while the publicly available agenda of the SEBI board meeting states that it had received comments from certain entities on the Discussion Paper, these comments are not publicly available and are stated to have been excised for reasons of confidentiality.
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 Securities Law Enforcement - Calibrating the Discipline of Penalty Imposition

Equipped with broad statutory powers, the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has been hard at work for the past 30 years, shouldering the herculean task of managing the Indian securities market, through both regulation and enforcement. Naturally, to help SEBI respond to and deal with evolving challenges, its powers, specifically those under the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956 (SCRA) and the SEBI Act, 1992 (SEBI Act), have been continuously at play, allowing it to mete out a wide range of penalties, both monetary and substantive. SEBI’s exercise of such powers, in its capacity as a quasi-judicial authority, has increasingly become a subject-matter of appellate interest, on questions of both jurisdictional remit and proportionality of penal action.
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shares with differential voting rights - DVR

Since December, 2000, Indian companies have been permitted to issue ‘dual class shares’. This was when the concept of ‘shares with differential voting rights’[1] was introduced in the Companies Act, 1956. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has, since July 21, 2009[2], disallowed listed companies to issue shares with superior rights to voting or dividend. However, listed companies were permitted to issue shares with inferior (or fractional) voting rights.

In an apparent reversal of its policy position, SEBI in its board meeting on June 27, 2019, approved a framework for the listing of companies that have shares with superior voting rights, while disallowing any further issuance of shares for those with inferior voting rights.
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