Tax implications on INVITs, REITs and its Unitholders under Finance Act 2020

As you are aware, the Finance Minister, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, presented the Union Budget 2020-2021 on February 1, 2020 and consequently, introduced the Finance Bill, 2020 (“Bill”) in the Lok Sabha. The Bill comprised the financial proposals, including taxation related proposals, to amend the provisions of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (“Income-tax Act”) for the financial year 2021. Subsequently, the Finance Minister and her team had several discussions with various stakeholders, who we understand made many representations, seeking changes in some of the proposals. Pursuant to this, amendments to the Bill were presented and the Bill, incorporating the amendments was passed by the parliament on March 26, 2020 and received the assent of the President of India on March 27, 2020. It has now been enacted as the Finance Act, 2020 (“Finance Act”).
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Short And Long-Term Impact Of Current Market Conditions - Part I

 Overview of current markets

During the morning trading session on March 23, 2020, the S&P BSE Sensex crashed 2,991.85 points (10%) to hit 26,924.11, while the Nifty 50 fell 842.45 points (9.63%) to slip to 7,903.00, triggering a circuit breaker and suspension of trading for 45 minutes, for the second time this month.

Market indices across the globe have fallen at record rates following the World Health Organization’s declaration of the COVID-19 outbreak as an international public health emergency on January 30, 2020, and then as a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Add to that the collapse of Yes Bank earlier this month, with a moratorium crippling liquidity, along with the sharp decline in oil and crude prices, and the Indian market indices have taken an unprecedented hit.
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Open Market for Buy-Back of Securities - SEBI

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) introduced the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Buy-Back of Securities) Regulations, 2018 (the “SEBI Regulations”) with effect from September 11, 2018, which govern buy-backs undertaken by a listed company.

A listed company’s shares and other specified securities can be bought back using any of the following methods:
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SEBI General Order 2020

Markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has recently issued a General Order on issuing observations on offer documents when there are pending regulatory actions, superseding a 2006 general order on the same subject. The General Order 1 of 2020, which was issued on February 5, 2020, sets out the circumstances under which SEBI can withhold observations on draft offer documents (companies cannot launch issues until SEBI provides observations).

We discuss the SEBI order, its implications, and whether this is a step in the right direction for a disclosure-oriented securities regime.
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mplications of the Finance Bill, 2020, on INVITs, REITs and its Unitholders

The Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, presented the Union Budget 2020-2021 on February 1, 2020 and consequently, introduced the Finance Bill, 2020 (“Bill”) in the Lok Sabha. The Bill comprises the financial proposals, including taxation related proposals, to amend the provisions of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (“Income-tax Act”) for the financial year 2021.

The Income-tax Act comprised provisions in relation to the taxability of, and exemptions available to, infrastructure investment trusts (“InvITs”) and real estate investment trusts (“REITs”, together with “InvITs”, referred to as “business trusts”) registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India under the Securities Exchange Board of India (Infrastructure Investment Trusts) Regulations, 2014 (“InvIT Regulations”) or the Securities Exchange Board of India (Real Estate Investment Trusts) Regulations, 2014 (“REIT Regulations”), respectively.
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Continuous disclosure obligations - Indian securities market

A regulatory environment that supports robust secondary market disclosures is critical for a well-functioning securities market. Ongoing disclosures by listed companies are being increasingly scrutinised by regulators, stock exchanges and market participants to see if timely and accurate disclosures of all material information are being made by the listed entity. Accordingly, it is important for companies to ensure that developments in their businesses translate to appropriate regulatory disclosures.

A recent example of the importance of secondary market disclosure is the Facebook case. In 2019, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced charges against Facebook Inc. (“Facebook”) for making misleading disclosures in its periodic filings against the risks pertaining to misuse of its user data by third parties. The SEC alleged that in public disclosures, Facebook presented the risk of misuse of user data as “merely hypothetical”, when they were aware that a third-party developer had actually misused Facebook user data. The SEC press release states that Facebook has agreed to pay $100 million to settle the charges.

We discuss this development and learnings for the Indian market below.
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SEBI Working Group on Related Party Transactions

 In the battle for good governance, India Inc. keeps tripping on three letters – RPT. Related-Party Transactions. This, despite the fact that India has one of the most elaborate set of rules and regulations for disclosures and approval of RPT by both listed and unlisted companies.

Historically, the Companies Act, 1956 did not specifically regulate RPTs. It had provisions that only restricted certain types of transactions.

The Companies Act, 2013 (CA, 2013) enacted Section 188, which for the first time began regulating certain types of transactions between companies and its “related parties” (as defined in CA 2013), and provided for the approval of such transactions (exceeding a prescribed monetary threshold) by non-related parties.
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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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Mutual Funds and Alternative Investments - Stewardship Code

Introduction

On December 24, 2019, Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) released a circular setting up a stewardship code for Asset Management Companies (“AMCs”), Mutual Funds (“MFs”) and all the categories of Alternative Investment Funds (“AIFs”) investing in listed Indian companies (“Stewardship Code” or “Code”). In keeping with global trends, SEBI has made it necessary for the power wielding cash-rich institutional investors, to act in accordance with the responsibilities that invariably accompany and behoove such powers and formulate a policy adopting the principles enshrined in the Code.

The Stewardship Code prescribes certain principles which, aim at enhancing the responsibilities of the AMCs/ AIFs to protect the interests of their investors/beneficiaries. The requirements pertaining to the Stewardship Code shall come into effect on April 1, 2020.
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Electrosteel Steels Limited v. Securities and Exchange Board of India

On November 14, 2019, almost a decade after the initial public offering of Electrosteel Steels Limited (Electrosteel), the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) delivered its judgment in Electrosteel Steels Limited v. Securities and Exchange Board of India[1] (the SAT Order). It partially upheld the judgment dated March 31, 2016 (SEBI Order) of the adjudicating officer of the Securities and Exchange Board of India[2] (SEBI). The SAT Order has discussed the concept of ‘materiality’ in the context of disclosure in offer documents.
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