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).


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Over the last few years, there has been considerable debate in Indian corporate legal circles around the interpretation of the term ‘control’ as defined under the SEBI (SAST) Regulations, 2011 ( “Regulations”). To those unaware of this issue, the question, simply put, is this: if an investor seeks to invest in an Indian listed entity (“Target”) and as a part of its investment terms requests for and obtains, certain contractual rights that are not available to other shareholders of the Targets (“Special Rights”), would such Special Rights amount to acquisition of ‘control’ of the Target by the investor for the purposes of the Regulations? The genesis of such debate may owe its origins to conflicting definitions of ‘control’ by Indian courts and legislators or interpretations of ‘control’ by Indian regulators but that would not be the focus of the current post. Nonetheless, there is no exhaustive definition of ‘control’ and recognising its impact on deal making and M&A in the public space in India, India’s securities markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) in March of 2016 initiated the process to define ‘control’ by proposing certain bright line tests (“BLTs”).

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