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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Evidentiary value of Parliamentary Committee Reports 

In Kalpana Mehta v Union of India (‘Kalpana Mehta judgment’)[1], a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court (‘SC’) pronounced a detailed judgment on whether Courts can place reliance on the Report of a Parliamentary Standing Committee (‘PSC’). The SC also examined whether the factual observations made in a PSC Report can be contested or challenged by the parties, during a judicial proceeding.

This decision arose from a referral order issued by a two-judge bench of the SC. The two-judge bench took the view that this was a ‘substantial question of law’ – that should be adjudicated by a Constitution Bench in accordance with Article 145(3) of the Constitution. While the Constitution Bench took a unanimous view, three separate concurring opinions were issued by Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Dr. D Y Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan.
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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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New CSR Regime – Is it too prescriptive

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (‘MCA’) notified the amendments made to Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 (‘the Act’) – via the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019, and the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2020, on January 22, 2021.

On the same day, the MCA also notified the Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility) Amendment Rules, 2021 (‘new CSR Rules’). These Rules have made significant changes to the regulatory framework governing the monitoring and evaluation of CSR activities, and the utilisation of CSR expenditure.

In this blog, we shall focus on the new CSR Rules, and examine its implications for India Inc. The implications of the changes made by the new CSR Rules are analyzed below.
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Supreme Court on the admissibility of electronic evidence under Section 65B of the Evidence Act.

The recent instances of leakage of Whatsapp chats obtained during the course of investigation and their admissibility as evidence in a criminal trial has brought the issue of electronic evidence to the forefront. These Whatsapp chats have been leaked in the public domain at the investigation stage itself, even before the commencement of the trial. Considering these recent developments, the legal framework for electronic evidence merits further scrutiny.

Under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Section 65B prescribes a distinct framework that governs the admissibility of electronic evidence. There have been multiple litigations over the scope and ambit of Section 65B, with divergent views taken by the Apex Court.
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RECLASSIFICATION OF PROMOTERS BY SEBI

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) came out with its consultative paper on “promoter reclassification/ promoter group entities and disclosure of the promoter group entities in the shareholding pattern[1] to seek public comments on November 23, 2020.

The topic of promoter reclassification has been a talking point since 2015, wherein the power to reclassify promoters laid in the hands of the company, rather than the promoter. Therefore, it was observed by SEBI that the process provided too wide a net to alter the tag of a “promoter”. Hence, in 2018, SEBI revamped the procedure and came out with the now inserted Regulation 31A of Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements Regulations, 2015.
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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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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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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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