Revised Framework for Core Investment Companies – Tightening the Screws

Introduction

The Reserve Bank of India (“RBI”) has modified the regulatory landscape applicable to core investment companies (“CICs”), as per its circular dated August 13, 2020 (“Revised Framework”), in order to ensure stability of the financial system and address systemic risks posed by inter-connectedness of CICs and their group companies. In contrast to the light-touch regulation issued exactly a decade ago on August 12, 2010, the Revised Framework imposes far more stricter norms.

In furtherance to its announcement in the Statement on Development and Regulatory Policies issued on June 6, 2019, along with the Second Bi-Monthly Monetary Policy for the year 2019-20, the RBI constituted a working group under the chairmanship of Mr. Tapan Ray (non-executive chairman, Central Bank of India and former secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs) (“Working Group”) to review the regulatory and supervisory framework applicable to CICs. The Working Group issued its report in November 2019 and the Revised Framework has now been issued based on the recommendations of the Working Group.
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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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Recent amendments to the insider trading regime

Since overhauling the insider trading regime with the introduction of the SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015 (“PIT Regulations”), the Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) has continually sought to fine tune and tweak the regulations through amendments in 2018 and 2019. On July 17, 2020, SEBI notified the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Prohibition of Insider Trading) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 (“PIT Amendment”), to introduce further changes to the PIT Regulations.
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Vote from Home – A Positive Move for Shareholder Meetings

The Companies Act, 2013 does not contemplate shareholder meetings being held electronically. However, as social distancing becomes de rigueur and the temporary lockdown has been extended to May 3, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become difficult, impractical and illegal in many cases for companies to hold shareholder meetings physically. At the same time, companies need to plough through these difficult times, and crucial decisions on matters such as fund raising and restructuring, all of which require shareholders’ approval, cannot be suspended. Responding to this dilemma, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has issued circulars[1] relaxing the requirement to hold physical general meetings and permitting meetings to be held remotely through electronic means.

The MCA has requested companies to hold general meetings to take decisions of urgent nature (other than for items of ordinary business[2] and items where any person has a right to be heard) through electronic voting or postal ballot, according to the procedure under Section 110 of the Companies Act, 2013 (Companies Act) and Rule 20 of the Companies (Management and Administration) Rules, 2014, and the additional measures prescribed under the circulars.
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Takeover regulations Companies Act

Background 

The Central Government recently notified Sections 230(11) and 230(12) of the Companies Act, 2013 (“Act”), which deal with takeover offers in unlisted companies. Section 230 of the Act provides for arrangements between a company and its creditors or members or any class of them, specifying the procedure to be followed to make such a compromise or arrangement. The newly-notified Section 230(11) states that in the case of unlisted companies any compromise or arrangement may include a takeover offer made in the prescribed manner, while Section 230(12) permits a party aggrieved by the takeover offer to make an application, bringing its grievance before the National Company Law Tribunal (“NCLT”). The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has also amended the Companies (Compromises, Arrangements and Amalgamations) Rules, 2016 (“CAA Rules”) and the NCLT Rules, 2016, corresponding to the above provisions. Sub-rules 5 and 6 have been added to Rule 3 of the CAA Rules, and Rule 80A has been inserted in the NCLT Rules, detailing the manner in which the applications may be made under Sections 230(11) and 230(12), respectively. However, these rules are not applicable to any transfer or transmission of shares through a contract, arrangement or succession, as the case may be, or any transfer made in pursuance of any statutory or regulatory requirement.
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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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Cross-border demergers – lack of legislative intent?

In the matter of Sun Pharmaceuticals Industries Limited, the Ahmedabad bench of the NCLT has ruled that Section 234 of the Companies Act, 2013 and the FEMA Cross Border Merger Regulations, 2018, do not permit cross-border demergers. Sun Pharma sought to demerge two of its investment undertakings in India into two overseas resulting companies, based in the Netherlands and the US. Being a listed entity, it obtained prior approval of SEBI through the relevant stock exchanges and the requisite corporate consents of its shareholders and creditors. The RBI granted its implied deemed approval by stating that the demerged company is required to abide by the applicable rules and regulations, which it had undertaken that it would. None of the other stakeholders to whom notices were issued by the tribunal, including the Registrar of Companies (ROC), objected to the demerger on the ground that it was not permitted by law.
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DECRIMINALIZING OUR COMPANY LAW

In line with the government’s stated goal of promoting Ease of Doing Business, the Company Law Committee (CLC), set up by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), has recently submitted its report to the MCA, recommending decriminalisation of 46 compoundable offences under the Companies Act, 2013 (the Act). This list is in addition to the 16 compoundable offences already decriminalised by the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019.

To put things into perspective, attempts to decriminalise business laws is not new to India. This process began with liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991. The first commercial law that was decriminalised was the Imports and Exports (Control) Act, 1947. It was replaced by the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992, which decriminalised most of the offences relating to imports and exports. The most fundamental step in this direction was the replacement of draconian Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), 1973, by Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999 which decriminalized offences relating to foreign exchange regulations.
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Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019

Commitment to social causes is best done voluntarily. Accordingly, corporate social responsibility (CSR) was originally introduced in Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 (Companies Act), in keeping with global best practices, to provide a framework to encourage companies to meaningfully contribute to communities.

The framework was premised on the principle that companies would contribute the prescribed amount in good faith and the requirement ‘to explain’ any failure to contribute, in their board report, was considered a sufficient disincentive to ensure compliance.[1] 
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Shares with Differential Voting Rights

The Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has recently circulated a consultation paper on Differential Voting Rights (DVRs). Issuance of shares with differential voting or dividend rights is not a novel concept for India. It has been around since 2000 and a few listed companies, like Tata Motors and Pantaloons, have issued shares with differential voting / dividend rights.

However, ever since, SEBI amended the Listing Regulations in 2009, to state that listed companies are not permitted to issue shares with ‘superior rights’, there have hardly been any takers for this instrument. SEBI’s current proposal appears to be an attempt to breathe some life into such instruments by providing more flexibility in structuring the terms of such issuances, albeit with some checks and balances.  
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