By utilising its powers under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court of India has delivered an unprecedented decision on August 09, 2018 in Chitra Sharma & Ors. v. Union of India and Ors., and other connected matters (the Jaypee / homebuyers Case). In this era of evolving jurisprudence on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC), the Supreme Court, by this landmark decision, has settled some highly debated issues with respect to its implementation and has provided much required certainty. This has been achieved by the Supreme Court paving the way to reset the clock by re-commencing the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP).
On June 6, 2018, the Government once again amended certain provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC), by promulgating an ordinance (the 2018 Ordinance) which introduces sweeping changes to the both substantive as well as procedural aspects relating to the insolvency process. Some of the key changes are analysed below.
Homebuyers – A New Class of ‘Financial Creditors’
The 2018 Ordinance has amended the definition of ‘financial debt’ to include amounts raised from ‘allottees’ in respect of a real estate project (as defined under the Real Estate (Regulations and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA)). Accordingly, homebuyers will now be entitled to a seat on the ‘committee of creditors’ (CoC) of the corporate debtor. However, given the large number of homebuyers for a project, they will be treated as a class of creditors and be represented in the CoC by an ‘authorised representative’ to be appointed by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
In its judgment pronounced on May 9, 2018, the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), Allahabad, in the case of ICICI Bank Limited v. Mr. Anuj Jain (Resolution Professional of Jaypee Infratech Limited), addressed the issue of the rights of third-party security holders of a corporate debtor under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC).
The judgment negated ICICI Bank Limited’s contention that it should be considered a financial creditor of Jaypee Infratech Limited, the corporate debtor. ICICI Bank’s claim was based on the corporate debtor having created mortgages on its property to secure loans provided to Jaiprakash Associates Limited, the holding company of the corporate debtor. The NCLT concluded that there was no financial debt owed to ICICI Bank by the corporate debtor, and so it could not be considered a financial creditor of the corporate debtor.
We consider here the correctness of the judgment and whether the NCLT has considered all the implications of its finding.
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC), since its enactment, has been a subject of great discussion and debate, both in the Industry as well as in the legal fraternity. This strong divide continues between those who consider it a necessary step (based on the abysmal rates of recovery of defaulted loans) and those who classify it as a ‘draconian legislation’. Given the division of views, it was expected that the IBC would be subject to legal and constitutional challenges.
This piece relates to one such challenge, and the first such judgement, on the constitutionality of provisions of the IBC.
The Supreme Court says: Do not examine constitutional validity
Interestingly, the Supreme Court, apprehending the largescale consequences of such challenges, advised the High Court of Gujarat in its order dated January 25, 2018 passed in Shivam Water Treaters Private Limited Vs Union of India & Ors, not to enter into the debate around the constitutional validity of the IBC. The Supreme Court observed that, “The High Court is requested not to enter into the debate pertaining to the validity of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 or the constitutional validity of the National Company Law Tribunal.”
Challenge of Constitutional Validity before the High Court at Calcutta
In November 2017, a challenge to constitutionality of provisions of the IBC was initiated before the High Court at Calcutta. After hearing arguments, the High Court reserved its judgement on the issues on December 15, 2017, which was well before the order of the Supreme Court in the Shivam Water Treaters case. The challenge arose consequent to an order of the Kolkata bench of the National Company Law Tribunal, which admitted an insolvency resolution petition filed by a financial creditor (Sberbank of Russia) against a corporate debtor (Varrsana Ispat Limited).
Despite several existing schemes and interventions by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the problem of bad debt has plagued the Indian banking system. For years, various high value accounts have undergone restructurings that have not resolved stress or the underlying imbalance in the capital structure, or addressed the viability of the business.
The existing RBI stipulated resolution mechanism included corporate debt restructuring (CDR), strategic debt restructuring (SDR), change in ownership outside the strategic debt restructuring (Outside SDR), the scheme for sustainable restructuring of stressed assets (S4A), etc. All of these were implemented under the framework of the Joint Lenders’ Forum (JLF).
On February 12, 2018, the RBI decided to completely revamp the guidelines on the resolution of stressed assets and withdrew all its existing guidelines and schemes. The guidelines/framework for JLF was also discontinued.
The New Framework
The new framework requires that as soon as there is a default in a borrower entity’s account with any lender, the lenders shall formulate a resolution plan. This may involve any action, plan or reorganisation including change in ownership, restructuring or sale of exposure etc. The resolution plan is to be clearly documented by all the lenders even where there is no change in any terms and conditions.
In a landmark judgment recently delivered by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) in the case of Innoventive Industries Limited v. ICICI Bank Limited, the NCLAT has held that the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) is bound to issue only a limited notice to the corporate debtor before admitting a case under Section 7 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (Insolvency Code).
Whilst dismissing the appeal filed by Innoventive Industries Limited against an order passed by NCLT, Mumbai admitting the insolvency petition filed by ICICI Bank Limited, the NCLAT has clarified that adherence to principles of natural justice would not mean that in every situation the NCLT is required to afford reasonable opportunity of hearing to the corporate debtor before passing its order.
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (Insolvency Code) has been one of the biggest Indian reform of recent times, which has moved the regime away from one that was highly uncertain for foreign investors. Among other important changes, the Insolvency Code contemplates change in control of the company during the insolvency resolution process to an insolvency professional (IP). The Insolvency Code comes in an environment where many Indian companies have gone global and have made acquisitions outside India.
India has not adopted the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency (UNCITRAL Model Law). It is notable that only a few countries that have adopted the UNCITRAL Model Law have specified a ‘reciprocity’ requirement for recognition of insolvency proceedings. Therefore, even if India has not adopted the UNCITRAL Model Law, Indian insolvency proceedings may be recognised in a jurisdiction that does not have a reciprocity requirement (this remains untested for Indian insolvency judgements). Also, Section 234 of the Insolvency Code provides for the Indian Government to enter into bilateral treaties with other countries for application of the Insolvency Code to assets or property outside India of the insolvent entities. However, to date, no such bilateral treaty has been signed.