Is Liquidation Irreversible - Schemes of Compromise in Liquidation

The 2005 Report of the Expert Committee on Company Law (JJ Irani Committee Report) had noted that an effective insolvency law:

should strike a balance between rehabilitation and liquidation. It should provide an opportunity for genuine effort to explore restructuring/ rehabilitation of potentially viable businesses with consensus of stakeholders reasonably arrived at. Where revival / rehabilitation is demonstrated as not being feasible, winding up should be resorted to.

Where circumstances justify, the process should allow for easy conversion of proceedings from one procedure to another. This will provide opportunity to businesses in liquidation to turnaround wherever possible. Similarly, conversion to liquidation might be appropriate even after a rehabilitation plan has been approved if such a plan was procured by fraud or the plan can no longer be implemented”.
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Ministry of Corporate Affairs circular - Legal Enforceability

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has been entrusted with the responsibility of administering the Companies Act, 2013 (Act). The MCA, from time to time, issues circulars and clarifications to clarify the provisions of the Act and the rules made thereunder (Rules). For example, in the first year of operation of the Act, the MCA issued 89 clarificatory circulars. In 2015 and 2016 the number was 22 and 21 respectively. In this article, we assess whether such circulars and clarifications are legally enforceable and how far companies may rely on them.

Here, it is pertinent to note that unlike Section 119(1) of the Income Tax Act, 1961, which empowers the Central Board of Direct Taxes to issue orders, instructions and circulars, there is no corresponding provision in the Act that empowers the MCA to issue such circulars and clarifications. As explained in our earlier post, executive action reflects steps taken by the Government in its sovereign authority. Article 73 of the Indian Constitution states that, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the executive power of the Union extends to matters on which the Parliament’s legislative power extends. However, this power cannot operate in matters of an ‘occupied fieldi.e., where prior legislation over the subject matter exists.
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Banning of Unregulated Schemes Ordinance, 2019

In the aftermath of the Saradha scam, the Standing Committee of Finance (Committee) in its 21st report dated September 21, 2015 suggested the introduction of a comprehensive regulatory framework governing all entities engaged in activities involving acceptance of deposits from the public. While making this recommendation, the Committee observed that certain entities were engaged in financial as well as non-financial activities and therefore, it was difficult to identify the appropriate regulator for such entities. Such entities fall under the jurisdiction of various regulatory bodies and in spite of overlapping regulations, several such entities were not regulated by any regulator.

In view of the suggestions of the Committee, a high level Inter-Ministerial Group (Group) was formulated for identifying gaps in the existing regulatory framework. The Group suggested the enactment of a comprehensive central act to criminalise the solicitation, promotion, acceptance and/or operation of ‘unregulated deposit schemes’. In line with the recommendations of the Committee and the Group, the Banning of Unregulated Schemes Ordinance, 2019 (Ordinance) was promulgated on February 21, 2019.
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Impact of the Companies (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 on Registration of Charges

On November 2, 2018, the Ministry of Corporate affairs promulgated an ordinance[1] (the Ordinance) inter alia amending certain provisions of the Companies Act, 2013 (the Act). One of the amendments is for the purpose of reducing the extended timelines for filing a charge created by a company as per Section 77(1) of the Act upon payment of additional fees prescribed by the Registrar.
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Changes in the Indian Companies Act

Recently, based on the recommendations of the Committee to Review Offences under the Companies Act, 2013 (Committee), the Companies (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 (Ordinance) was passed on November 2, 2018, to effect certain changes in the Companies Act, 2018 (CA 2013). Around the same time the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) also issued a notice, seeking comments/suggestions from stakeholders on additional amendments of an “urgent nature” that are required to strengthen the corporate governance and enforcement framework (Notice). This article discusses some of the key amendments proposed in the Notice, which would have far reaching impact if approved in their current form.
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Transfer of Proceedings from Courts to NCLT: The Calcutta High Court’s View

A question that has often come up since the Companies Act, 2013 (the 2013 Act) came into force is how will proceedings ongoing before the High Courts be transferred to the National Companies Law Tribunal (NCLT)? Section 434(1)(c) of the 2013 Act deals with transfer of “all proceedings” under the Companies Act, 1956[1] to the NCLT. For winding up proceedings, this provision states that only such proceedings relating to winding up, which are at a certain stage as prescribed by central Government, are to be transferred to the NCLT. Another part of this provision, meanwhile, deals with cases other than winding up proceedings, which may not be transferred to the NCLT.[2] A reading of all the various provisions leads to the conclusion that not all proceedings under the 1956 Act pending before the District Courts and High Courts are to be transferred to the NCLT.
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Share transfer restrictions come in various shapes and sizes and in so far as they relate to shares of public companies, their validity has been a topic of hot debate. In several cases, Indian courts have considered and opined on the legality of contractual restrictions on the transfer of shares of public companies. The position in this regard now appears to be much clearer than before with changes also being introduced in the Companies Act, 2013 (CA 2013). However, one aspect of this debate that has hitherto gained lesser traction is the ability of a public company to refuse registration of share transfers pursuant to section 58(4) of the CA 2013.

Section 58(2) of CA 2013 states that the securities of any member in a public company are freely transferable, while under section 58(4) of CA 2013, it is open to the public company to refuse registration of the transfer of securities for a ‘sufficient cause’. To that extent, section 58(4) of CA 2013 can be read as a limited restriction on the free transfer permitted under section 58(2) of CA 2013. However, the statute does not provide any guidance on what would constitute ‘sufficient cause’ and leaves it open to the company itself to ascertain the same.
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Financial investors in India are scared of regulatory uncertainties. Not that uncertainties are exclusive to our country but it’s a critical risk factor that is assessed by those making substantial investments. Historically, one of the most important regulatory concerns for such investors is related to being categorised as ‘promoter’ of a listed company, both when the company is going public and also in cases where a private equity (PE) player intends to take a control position in an already listed company, by replacing its present promoters or by becoming co-promoters. Promoter liability theories have kept such investors away from taking control positions in listed companies. On the contrary, in the unlisted space where the promoter position is perceived differently, control deals are a way of life for certain PE funds in India.

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On December 7, 2016, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) notified and brought into operation a significant chunk of sections under the Companies Act, 2013, including provisions relating to compromises, arrangements, reconstructions, mergers and amalgamations, with effect from December 15, 2016 (the Notification). This marks a paradigm shift in the corporate restructuring process, which is all set to undergo a transition from the earlier restructuring processes under the aegis of the High Courts, to National Company Law Tribunals (NCLTs), constituted with effect from June 1, 2016.

The MCA notified the Companies (Removal of Difficulties) Fourth Order, 2016, and the Companies (Transfer of Proceedings), Rules, 2016, on the same date as the Notification, clarifying that proceedings relating to schemes will stand transferred, forthwith, except where orders have been reserved. While applicants with final hearings on or before December 14, 2016, who were expecting orders to be reserved, heaved a sigh of relief, other applicants were caught in a limbo, while prospective applicants were left to surmise, and gear up for implementation of the new provisions, yet to be tested by NCLTs. The Notification was soon followed, on December 14, 2016, by the Companies (Compromises, Arrangements and Amalgamations) Rules, 2016, on sanction of schemes by NCLTs.
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