New Remuneration Regime for Independent Directors - Will It help in attracting better talent on the boards of India Inc

Recently, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (‘MCA’) has notified the amendments made to Sections 149(9) and 197(3) of the Companies Act, 2013 (‘2013 Act’) by the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2020 (‘2020 Amendment’) -to enable companies faced with absence or inadequacy of profits to pay certain minimum guaranteed remuneration to Non-Executive Directors (‘NEDs’) and Independent Directors (‘IDs’), as may be prescribed. On the same day, the MCA also issued a Notification to amend Schedule V of the 2013 Act to prescribe the scale of remuneration which can be paid to NEDs and IDs, depending on the effective capital of the company.
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Computation of ‘net profits’ for Managerial Remuneration – Has this provision outlived its utility

Introduction

Section 198 of the Companies Act, 2013 (‘2013 Act’), prescribes a special method for computation of ‘net profits’ of a company in a financial year — which has different rules for arriving at net profit than the one prescribed under Accounting Standards.

The special methodology for computation of net profits prescribed under Section 198 is used for two purposes – (i) for determining managerial remuneration under Section 197 and Schedule V; and (ii) for determining the minimum CSR amount to be spent by the company in a financial year, under Section 135(5) of the 2013 Act.
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Cross-border ESOP Structures

Employee stock options (“ESOPs”) have been used as an effective retention tool globally. Cross-border ESOP structures can be considered by a variety of global businesses with existing Indian presence and by investors that propose to set up greenfield presence or acquire operating businesses in India. Moreover, Indian companies can also issue ESOPs to employees of their foreign holding, subsidiary or joint venture companies. This article discusses various cross-border ESOP structures and identifies key considerations arising under Indian corporate, foreign exchange and taxation laws. 
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Serious Fraud Investigation Office – Keeping a close watch on frauds in India Inc

The Serious Fraud Investigation Office (‘SFIO’) is an organisation established under the aegis of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (‘MCA’) – for investigation and prosecution of white-collar crimes. The SFIO was constituted in July 2003 following the recommendations of the Naresh Chandra Committee. In 2002, the Naresh Chandra Committee had recommended setting up a ‘Corporate Serious Fraud Office’, to uncover corporate fraud, and supervise prosecutions under various economic legislations.
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Minimum Interest Rates on loans to foreign WOS – Need for Review

Inter-corporate loans granted by a company are regulated under Section 186 of the Companies Act, 2013 (‘2013 Act’). One important pre-condition relates to the interest rate thresholds prescribed under sub-section (7). Section 186(7) of the Act states that – “No loan shall be given under this Section at a rate of interest lower than the prevailing yield of one-year, three-year, five-year or ten-year Government Security closest to the tenor of the loan.

Section 186(7) effectively prevents a company from giving an inter-corporate loan at a rate of interest lower than the prescribed thresholds, i.e. the prevailing yield of one-year, three-year, five-year or ten-year government security closest to the tenor of the loan. This leads to multiple practical difficulties, especially in situations where a holding company wishes to provide funds to its foreign wholly owned subsidiaries (‘WOS’).
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SEBI Changes to Scheme Circular - Is it a case of over-prescription

SEBI has been continuously streamlining the regulatory architecture governing schemes of arrangements under Sections 230-232 of the Companies Act, 2013 (“Companies Act”) and Regulations 11, 37 and 94 of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (“LODR”) involving listed companies with the introduction of the SEBI Circular dated March 17, 2017 (“SEBI Scheme Circular”). SEBI vide its Circular dated November 3, 2020 (“Amendment Circular”), has introduced further changes to the SEBI Scheme Circular. The Amendment Circular is brought into effect for all schemes of arrangement submitted to the Stock Exchanges on or after November 17, 2020. Changes introduced under the Amendment Circular are as follows:
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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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Striking off Name of a Company - The Jurisdictional Issue

Jurisdiction is not given for the sake of the judge, but for that of the litigant

– Blaise Pascal

Recently the Delhi High Court in Money Market Services (India) Private Ltd. v. Union of India held that an order passed by Registrar of Companies (ROC) striking off the name of a Company can be challenged by way of writ petition only before the High Court, which has territorial jurisdiction over the said ROC.[1]
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