Partner, Vinod Kothari and Company
National Financial Reporting Authority (‘NFRA’) being a quasi-judicial authority has been empowered by the Central Government to independently regulate and monitor the accounting and auditing standards (‘A&AS’). The intent of NFRA is to oversee the quality of A&AS of large entities as mentioned under Rule 3 (1) of the NFRA Rules.
Evidently NFRA intends to oversee the A&AS of large entities in terms of being listed or the size of the company or being functionally different entities like electricity companies or insurance companies, etc. Such entities have the presence of its subsidiaries and associates all around the world which may be contributing materially in terms of Rule 3 (1) (e) of the NFRA Rules to the net worth and turnover of the Indian parent entity.
While the last date for filing one time return by bodies corporate is approaching fast i.e. 31st July, 2019, there seems to a lot of ambiguity in the applicability of the NFRA Rules.
This note has been prepared with the intent to showcase the conflict between the provisions of the Companies Act, 2013 (‘Act’) read with its allied Rules and the FAQs issued by NFRA.
Various Provisions of the Act applying to bodies corporate
- Applicability section of the Act
The first section of the Act laying down the applicability of the Act clearly mentions the following under clause (f) of sub-section (4) – “such body corporate, incorporated by any Act for the time being in force, as the Central Government may, by notification, specify in this behalf, subject to such exceptions, modifications or adaptation, as may be specified in the notification.”
This provision makes it very clear that the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (‘MCA’) has been vested with the powers of applying the provisions of the Act to any bodies corporate. Further, the provision is also quite clear that such body corporate may be either incorporated under the Act or any other Act. This implies that even for foreign companies, the MCA has the power to apply the provisions of the Act subject to the changes as may be notified.
- Definition of the term body corporate
Section 2 (11) defines the term ‘body corporate’ to include a company incorporated outside India. Here also, the intent of law is explicitly clear to cover the bodies corporate governed by foreign laws.
- Chapter 22 of the Act
Section 379 (2) of the Act provides that a foreign company which is substantially owned and controlled by an Indian citizen or by an Indian company is required to comply with the provisions of the Act as mentioned thereunder.
Areas of conflict
While the consolidated financial statements of the Indian parent entities include the accounts of the subsidiaries and associates also, it cannot be argued that the quality of auditing and accounting is anywhere less relevant than the A&AS of the Indian parent. Therefore, it seems in fitness of things under clause (e) of Rule 3 (1) of the NFRA Rules to include foreign subsidiary and associates if they fulfil the condition of materiality under the said Rules (foreign subsidiaries and associates whose income or net worth exceeds 20% of the consolidated income and net worth of the Indian parent [‘material subsidiaries and associates]).
However, the FAQs issued by NFRA have taken a different stand altogether with respect to the applicability of the NFRA Rules. It states that only those material subsidiaries and associates are covered under the scope which are having place of business in India.
While it sounds very surprising that if this wouldn’t have been the case, the condition of the foreign subsidiaries and associates which has an Indian parent, doing business back in India is very unlikely.
In any event, if merely by not having a business in India absolves the material subsidiaries and associates from the overview of the NFRA that would frustrate the whole intent and objective of the NFRA and allow such subsidiaries and associates to escape from the regulation of NFRA by virtue of the additional clause in the FAQs.
It seems that this condition of having business in India should have either be mixed with section 379 of the Act which talks about foreign companies having business in India or should may have actually been intended to be referred to the Indian parent’s business in India.
Further, if the question is one of jurisdiction as of how the Act extends its application to foreign bodies corporate not having business in India is concerned, it may be noted that section 1 (4) of the Act allows the Central Government to extend the provision of Act to bodies corporate, and it may therefore, it may be construed that in a manner of speaking is actually extended to foreign bodies corporate which have a business connection in India by virtue of having an Indian parentage.
One of the major questions in front of the stakeholders is the jurisdiction of NFRA which the FAQs have seemingly restricted to bodies corporate having place of business in India. However, considering the other provisions of the Act, it is quite clear that NFRA has been constituted not only to govern the auditors registered in India but also those in abroad as MCA has left number of provisions open under the Act which applies to bodies corporate.
If one interprets the applicability of NFRA on Indian bodies corporate, the whole intent and object of setting this regulatory body will get frustrated.