Prosecution of company directors for day-to-day operational issues: SC ruling provides relief

By Dibisha Mishra (;


While directors are the brain and neural control center of companies, but it is evident that the day to day affairs of  companies are not run by the board of directors , or even the executive directors of companies. Under circumstances can directors be prosecuted, merely because they hold board positions, for something as operational as the lack of safety measures in a smoking zone in a hotel? The SC in a recent ruling[1] of Shiv Kumar Jatia vs. State of NCT of Delhi has taken forward its earlier rulings in the case of Maksud Saiyed vs. State of Gujarat & Ors[2] and Sunil Bharti Mittal vs. CBI[3], and has held the doctrine of vicarious liability cannot be applied to offences under the IPC unless specifically provided for.

The concept of a corporate structure is based on the very premise of a business idea brought into by a group of persons [also known as promoters], backed up with funds from shareholders and creditors and set to implementation by directors who are elected by the shareholders. While shareholders continue to hold certain decision making powers, the directors are broadly responsible for the functioning and performance of the company. Having said so, it is also to be understood that a director of a company is not always in charge of everyday affairs. It depends upon the respective role assigned to different officers in a company.

Liability of officers for offences under Companies Act

The Companies Act, 2013 (‘the Act’), has explicitly identified officers who are in default for the purpose of the Act which includes directors and KMP.

Further, Section 149(12)(ii) of the Companies Act 2013 provides that liability of a NEDs arises only with respect to such acts of omission or commission by a company which had occurred with his knowledge, attributable through Board processes, and with his consent or connivance or where he had not acted diligently. Hence, obligation is on the ROC to verify relevant information and records before initiating prosecution against independent or nominee directors.

However, it is to be noted that the above provisions are to be considered only where there has been any contravention with the provisions of the Companies Act while in case of other statutes, respective provisions is to be seen.

Liability for criminal felonies

When a Corporate gets accused of a criminal offence, the individual to be prosecuted for the same remains a matter of consideration. The extent of liability of Non-Executive Directors in case of offences has been discussed in our earlier article[4]. The present article discusses the Supreme Court’s judgment[5] on the case of Shiv Kumar Jatia vs. State of NCT of Delhi which quashed the impugned order of the High Court and freed the Managing Director from the criminal liability imposed on the basis of doctrine of ‘vicarious liability’.

Facts of the case:

Shiv Kumar Jatia is the Managing Director of M/s. Asian Hotels which looks after Hyatt Regency Hotel. He had authorized Mr. PR. Subramanian to apply for lodging license of the hotel.

There was a contravention the condition of the lodging license which led to a hotel guest enter into a semi lit under-construction terrace for smoking. The guest fell from the terrace of 6th floor to the 4th floor and got injured. Case was brought before the High Court which ordered for prosecution the Managing director along with the other three accused by relying on the case of Sushil Ansal vs. State through CBI[6].

Shiv Kumar Jatia appealed before the Apex Court against such impugned order of the High Court where the case was decided in his favour vide judgment dated 23rd August, 2019.

Provisions of law considered:

Alleged offences under Section 336 and 338 of the Indian Penal Code

Section 336:

“Whoever does any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with impris­onment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to two hundred and fifty rupees, or with both.”

Section 338:

“Whoever causes grievous hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”

Apex court stated that the essential elements to prove an alleged offence under section 336 are:

  • an act
  • done rashly or negligently
  • to endanger human life or personal safety

while for section 338, the condition of grievous hurt is to be met in additional to elements in section 336.

Doctrine of vicarious liability

Under the doctrine of vicarious liability, one person is held responsible for the wrong doing of the other. Such liability arises only when both persons are somehow connected to each other like employee-employer relationship or principal-agent relationship. In case of corporates, the applicability of the said doctrine is to be determined on the basis of provisions of statute dealt with.

There is no vicarious liability unless the statute specifically provides so.

  • The court referred to the judgment[7] of Maksud Saiyed vs. State of Gujarat & Ors, where the Court held that the Penal Code does not contain any provision of vicarious liability on the part of the Managing Director/ Director of the company where the accused is a company.
  • Further, the case of Sunil Bharti Mittal vs. CBI[8] was also referred to wherein it was held that:

“a corporate entity is an artificial person which acts through its officers, directors, managing director, chairman etc. If such a company commits an offence involving mens rea, it would normally be the intent and action of that individual who would act on behalf of the company. It would be more so, when the criminal act is that of conspiracy. However, at the same time, it is the cardinal principle of criminal jurisprudence that there is no vicarious liability unless the statute specifically provides so.”

This means where the statutory provision itself does not specifically attract the doctrine of vicarious liability, an individual cannot be implicated under the same.

Existence of Active Role and Criminal Intent

It was stressed that in the absence of any statutory provision incorporating vicarious liability, an individual cannot be made accused, unless there is a sufficient evidence of his ‘active role coupled with criminal intent’. Further such criminal intent must have direct nexus with the accused.

In the given case, the Managing Director was outside the country on the day of the accident. Moreover, mere authorizing an official for obtaining license cannot be construed to his active role with criminal intent. Hence, the same was also failed to be established before the Court.


The Apex Court held that there is no specific provision of applicability of doctrine of vicarious liability in the Indian Penal Code. Further, the allegations made on the Managing Director could not establish any active role coupled with criminal intent having direct nexus with the accused.

Concluding the same, the Court passed the judgment that the allegations made on the Managing Director was vague in nature and the criminal proceedings against Shiv Kumar Jatia as passed by the High Court were quashed.

Time and again the court have taken the view that merely because of holding the position as a director/managing director, a person cannot be vicariously held liable for offence committed by Companies. It has to be proved how he was responsible for, or in control of, or negligent in conducting the affairs of the company. In the absence of definite averments, a director cannot be deemed to be liable.










Injeti Srinivas’s Committee: Changes recommended in provisions of Corporate Social Responsibility

Provisions relating to DVR & DRR- stands amended

Amendments introduced in Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Amendment Rules, 2019

by Smriti Wadehra (smriti@vinodkothari.c0m)

The recent Notification of Ministry dated 16th August, 2019 has amended the provisions of Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Rules, 2014 with respect to quantum of holding of equity shares with differential voting rights by a Company and provisions pertaining to creation of debenture redemption reserve. The amended provisions are applicable from the date of notification in the e-gazette i.e. 16th August, 2019.

Differential Voting Rights

SEBI in its Board Meeting dated 27th June, 2019 proposed insertion of the provisions of DVRs in SEBI ICDR Regulations. The proposal was w.r.t inter alia to cap the total voting rights of superior rights shareholders (including ordinary shares) at 74% of the total voting power. The respective amendments are still awaited. Meanwhile, the Ministry vide the aforesaid Notification amended the provisions under CA, 13 related to DVRs. The Notification has escalated the limit of DVR shares in the Company from 26% of total post-issue paid up equity capital of the Company to 74% of the total voting power.

The erstwhile provisions of the Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Rules, 2014 permitted issuance of equity shares with differential rights subject to compliance of conditions mentioned in Rule 4(1) of the said Rules. One of criterion for issuance of equity shares with differential rights by a Company was that shares with differential rights should not exceed 26% of total post-issue paid up equity capital of the Company at any point of time. However, the amendment has increased this limit to 74% of the total voting power at any point of time. Notably, this is another significant highlight of the amendment  that the erstwhile cap of 26% was based on the post-issue paid up equity capital which has now been changed to 74% of the voting power.

Further, in this regard, condition on companies issuing shares with differential rights having consistent track record of distributable profits for the last three years have been done away with.

Debenture Redemption Reserve

The erstwhile provisions of Section 71(4) read with Rule 18(1)(c) of the Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Rules, 2014 required every company issuing redeemable debentures to create a debenture redemption reserve (“DRR”) of at least 25% of outstanding value of debentures for the purpose of redemption of such debentures. Apart from creation of DRR, such companies were required to either deposit, before April 30th each year, in a scheduled bank account, a sum of at least 15% of the amount of its debentures maturing during the year ending on 31st March of next year or invest in one or more securities enlisted in Rule 18(1)(c) of Debenture Rules.

Under the erstwhile framework, the following classes of companies were required to comply with the provisions relating to DRR:

  1. NBFCs registered with RBI under section 45-IA of RBI Act, 1934 issuing debentures through public issue;
  2. Other listed companies coming up with public issue or private placement;
  3. Unlisted companies issuing debentures on private placement basis.

With a view to liberalise the legal framework surrounding issuance of debentures by NBFCs, the FinMin proposed Union Budget of 2019-20 proposed to scrap off the requirement of creation of DRR for publicly issued debentures also so as to motivate NBFCs.  Subsequently, the MCA came out with notification to amend the Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Rules, 2014.

The amended provisions has exempted NBFCs registered with RBI and HFCs registered with National Housing Bank from creation of DRR in case of public issue of debentures. Further, the requirement of listed companies to create DRR has been done away with. The amended Rules have also lowered down the quantum of funds to be transferred to DRR by unlisted companies. However, as a flipside to the exemptions granted, the MCA has knowingly or unknowingly, unsettled an otherwise settled matter on creation of debenture redemption fund as per Rule 18(7).

Under the erstwhile provisions required creation of debenture redemption fund only by those companies on which DRR was applicable. However, under the current set of rules, the requirement to create DRF will apply to all listed companies, other than AIFIs or other FIs as per the clause of section 2(72). This new rule applies even to NBFCs.

It is pertinent to note that until now, NBFCs were required to create debenture redemption reserve only for publicly issued debt securities. However, under the new rule, all listed NBFCs will have to create a DRF even in case of private placement of debentures. This change in the rules seems to be contradicting the intention of proposal in the Union Budget.

The intention of the proposal was to promote NBFCs to explore Bond markets more often for fund raising, however, the language of the new rule has jeopardised the existing cases of debenture issuances, let alone be new debenture issuances. Considering the ongoing liquidity crisis, the entire financial system is going through, the implications of this requirement could be severe.

Creation of DRR is somewhat a liberal requirement then creation of DRF, this is because, where the former is merely an accounting entry, the latter is investing of money out of the Company and the fact the new rule casts an exemption from the first and not from the second makes the situation a bit awkward. Therefore, where there is no requirement even for annually conserving a part of their profits, the requirement of creating a fund out of the same becomes completely illogical.

Hence, in our view, the amendments have actually slashed the expectation to relax issuance of debentures by NBFCs and on the other hand has also taken away the available exemption to the NBFCs for not creating DRF in case of issuance of debt securities through private placement. The actual intent of the amendment would have been to reduce the requirement of DRR from somewhat say 25% to 10%, however, in a completely unexpected move, the requirement for parking liquid funds, in form of a debenture redemption fund (DRF) has been extended to all bond issuers except unlisted NBFCs (which are hardly any in India), irrespective of whether they are covered by the requirement of DRR or not.

In this regard, the notification also fails to clarify the basic question that is whether the requirement will be applicable to debentures/bonds already issued, before the date of the notification or only after the date of notification. Though, the language suggest that the same shall be applicable on debentures due for redemption after the date of notification, i.e. for debentures maturing during the year ending on 31st March, 2020. However, in our view, one should try to create a DRF for the debentures maturing within 31st March, 2020 itself. Lastly needless to say, the MCA notification needs to be considered immediately.

A brief analysis of the amendments are discussed below:

Applicability of DRR and Debenture Redemption Fund

a)    All India Financial Institutions and Banking Companies

b)   NBFCs registered with RBI under section 45-IA of RBI Act, 1934 and Housing Finance Companies registered with National Housing Bank

  1. Other companies

Synopsis of amendments in DRR provisions

Sl. No. Particulars Type of Issuance DRR as per erstwhile provisions DRR as per amended provisions DRF as per erstwhile provisions DRF as per amended provisions
1. All India Financial Institutions Public issue/private placement


× × × ×
2. Banking Companies Public issue/private placement


× × × ×


Listed NBFCs registered with RBI under section 45-IA of the RBI Act, 1934 and HFC registered with National Housing Bank


Public issue


25% of value of outstanding debentures

Private Placement


× × ×
4. Unlisted NBFCs registered with RBI under section 45-IA of the RBI Act, 1934 and HFC registered with National Housing Bank



Private Placement












Other listed companies


Public Issue



25% of value of outstanding debentures


Private Placement



25% of value of outstanding debentures


6. Other unlisted companies Private Placement


25% of value of outstanding debentures



10% of the value of outstanding debentures








Commencement of certain sections under Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019

-Phase II

by Smriti Wadehra (

The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced on 25th July, 2019 which received President’s assent on 31st July, 2019 and became the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019. The Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019 is a combination of Companies (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019 introduced on 21st February, 2019 and 9 out of 20 proposed changes which were proposed by the Ministry on 5th November, 2018. There were two additional amendments which were not covered by the Ordinance and proposed changes.

The Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019 notified 43 sections out of which 31 sections were effective from 2nd November, 2018. Other sections were to be notified by the Ministry by way of separate commencement notification. Accordingly, the Ministry on 14th of August, 2019 further notified 10 section to be effective from the date of notification. A brief synopsis of the amendments are provided below:

Section No. of Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019 Section No. of Companies Act, 2013 Particulars Amendment Impact / Rermarks Actionable for companies
6 26 Matters to be stated in prospectus 1.    Substitution of word “registration” with “filing” in sub-section (4), (5) and (6)


2.    Omission of Registrar’s power to not register a prospectus for non-fulfilment of requirements of section 26


Seems to be a change in the terminology.
7 29 Public offer of securities to be in dematerialised form 1.    Omission of word “public” in sub-section(1)(b)


2.    Insertion of new clause to provide such class or classes of unlisted companies as may be prescribed, the securities shall be held or transferred only in dematerialised form in the manner laid down in the Depositories Act, 1996 and the regulations made thereunder

Pursuant to the amendment, all companies falling under such class of companies as may be prescribed has to mandatorily issue securities only in demat form.


In the absence of the Rules, this change seems to include private companies, small companies and OPC as well. However, the new clause comes with a proviso that states that the Ministry will come out with revised Rules prescribing thresholds for companies (which may include private companies) which requires issuance compulsorily in dematerialized form.


Further, there remain certain other grey areas which shall be clear only once the revised Rules in this regard are out. These include:

·        whether this requirement will be made applicable only for new issues of capital by companies; or

·        Will require all existing shares also to be dematerialised.


However, whether the same will be applicable to companies having prescribed thresholds which may include private companies, small companies, section 8 companies, OPCs etc.


The actionables can be determined only once the Rules are in place.


8 35 Civil liability for mis-statements in prospectus


To give effect to the amendment introduced in section 26, the term registration has been substituted with filing in this section also.


Mere linking of amendment in different sections.
14- clause (i), (iii) and (iv) 90(4A), (9A) and (11) Register of significant beneficial owners in a company 1.    Every company has to  take necessary steps to identify an individual who is a significant beneficial owner in relation to the company and require him to comply with the provisions of this section


2.    Government to come out with Rules in this regard


The existing provisions casted an obligation on the SBO to come and declare to the reporting company, however, the amendment indicates that nin addition to sending BEN-4 notices to the shareholders, the reporting company may also be required to go out on an investigation spree even in cases where it does not have a reason to believe about the presence of an SBO.


Further, the amendment also indicates that the SBO Rules shall be revised in this regard which is expected to provide the clarity on the actionables.

SBO determination is a collaborative exercise which the Company and SBO has to ensure.


Accordingly, as a result of this change, companies may need to send letters, notices and any other type of correspondence in addition to those cases where it was obligated to send notices to entities holding more than 10% shareholding in the Company.


In any event, the medium and extent of this new exercise will be clear once the MCA comes out with revised rules in this regard.

Also, considering the commencement of the said amendment has been made effective from 14th August, 2019, surely the same is to be used by the companies for identification of subsequent SBO, if any, which are identified, as the first round of identification has already been done.


However, what necessary steps are to be taken by the Company for identification of SBO requires clarity.


20 132 Constitution of National Financial Reporting Authority 1.      NFRA to perform its functions through such divisions as may be prescribed;


2.      Each division of the National Financial Reporting Authority shall be presided over by the Chairperson or a full-time Member authorised by the Chairperson;


3.      There shall be an executive body of the National Financial Reporting Authority consisting of the Chairperson and full-time Members of such Authority for efficient discharge of its functions as specified in the section;


4.      NFRA may debar a member or firm:

I.     being appointed as an auditor or internal auditor or undertaking any audit in respect of financial statements or internal audit of the functions and activities of any company or body corporate; or

II.    performing any valuation as provided under section 247,

for a minimum period of 6 months or such higher period not exceeding 10 years as may be determined by the Authority


Amendment notifies constitution of NFRA
31 212 Investigation into affairs of Company by SFIO Pursuant to investigation report of SFIO, if fraud is reported, the Government may make an application to NCLT for disgorgement of profits/assets. Further, there will be unlimited personal liability on officers/person/entity benefitted


The amendment proposes disgorgement of properties of officers in default in case of corporate frauds.
33 241 Application to Tribunal for relief in cases of oppression, etc.


1.      Application for oppression has to be made before the Principal Bench of Tribunal by certain class of companies to be prescribed by Ministry;


2.      New sub-section (3) has been inserted which provides that where Central Govt is of the opinion that there exists:

a)     Fraud, misfeasance, negligence or default in management or breach of trust; or

b)     Business is not being conducted as per business principles

c)     Company is being managed by person who is likely to cause serious injury or damage to the business

d)     Business is being carried out with the intent to defraud creditors, members or any other person or prejudicial to public interest

The Government may initiate a case against such person and refer the same to the Tribunal and inquire into the case to record a decision as to whether or not such person is a fit and proper person to hold the office of director or any other office connected with the conduct and management of any company.


The law was silent of the fact that what does “matters prejudicial to public interest” with regard to section 242(2) means. The amendment list down matters where Central Government may make application against the Company to Tribunal for conducting business prejudicial to the interest of the Company.


The erstwhile provisions of section 398(1)(b) of the 1956 Act it was enough to establish that there was a likelihood of affairs being conducted in a prejudicial manner to the interest of Company. However, the amended provisions of Act clearly lays down situatiobs where interest of the Company can be prejudicial affected.

34 242 Powers of Tribunal


Pursuant to the application  made to Tribunal in sub-section 241(3), the Tribunal shall record its decision stating therein specifically as to whether or not the respondent is a fit and proper person to hold the office of director or any other office connected with the conduct and management of any company


Tribunal on application being made by Central Government determine whether oppression/mismanagement is being conducted in the Company and record reasons whether an officer is fit and proper for managing the Company.
35 243 Consequence of termination or modification of certain agreements


The person who is not a fit and proper person pursuant to sub-section (4A) of section 242 shall not hold the office of a director or any other office connected with the conduct and management of the affairs of any company for a period of 5 years from the date of the said decision. Further shall not be entitled to any compensation for loss of office.


However, CG may, with the leave of the Tribunal, permit such person to hold any such office before the expiry of the said period of five years.

Explicit prohibition on officers in default from holding similar office for a period of 5 years. –         
37 272 Petition for winding up


The amendment omits reference of clause (e) of section 271(1) from sub-section (3) of section 272.


The Registrar shall be entitled to present a petition for winding up under section 271, except on the grounds specified in clause (a) which provides that the Company must have resolved by way of a SR that the Company would be wound up by the Tribunal.


Reference of clause providing that Tribunal may file a petition under 272 if it is of the opinion that it is just and equitable that company should be wound up has been done away with.



38 398 Provisions relating to filing of applications, documents, inspection etc in electronic form.


The term “prospectus” has been omitted from clause (f) of sub-section (1) which provides for registration of prospectus by Registrar. Seems to be a change in the terminology.


Analysis of Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019

Highlights of Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2019

by Vinod Kothari 

The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2019 has been placed before the Parliament[1] on 25th July, 2019. While the Bill, 2019 is largely to enact into Parliamentary law the provisions already promulgated by way of Presidential Ordinance, the Bill also brings some interesting changes.

The key feature of the Bill is to replace the existing system of judicial prosecution for offences by a departmental process of imposition of penalties. As a result, while the monetary burden on companies may go up, but offenders will not be having to face criminal courts and the stigma attached with the same.

Some of the other highlights of the changes are as follows:

Dematerialisation of securities may now be enforced against private companies too

It is notable that amendments were made by the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2017 effective from 10th September, 2018 effective from 2nd October, 2018, whereby all public unlisted companies were required to ensure that the issue and transfer of securities shall henceforth be done in dematerialised mode only. This provision alone had brought about major cleansing of the system, as in lots of cases, shareholding records included men of straw.

However, the reality of India’s corporate sector is private companies, constituting roughly 90% of the total number of incorporated companies.

The provision of section 29 is now being extended to all companies, public and private. This means, that the Govt may now mandate dematerialisation for shares of private companies too. Whether this requirement will be made applicable only for new issues of capital by private companies, or will require all existing shares also to be dematerialised, remains to be seen, but if it is the latter, the impact of this will be no lesser than “demonetisation-2” at least for the corporate sector. Evidently, all shareholders of all private companies will have to come within the system by getting their holdings dematerliaised.

CSR is now mandatory, and unspent amounts will go to PM’s Funds

When the provision for corporate social responsibility was introduced by Companies Act 2013, the-then minister Sachin Pilot went public to say, the provision will follow what is globally known as “comply or explain” (COREX). That is, companies will not be mandated to spend on CSR – the board report will only give reasons for not spending.

Notwithstanding the above, over the last few months, registry offices have sent show-cause notices to thousands of companies for not spending as required, disregarding the so-called reasons given in the Board report.

Now, the rigour being added takes CSR spending to a completely different level:

  • If companies are not able to spend the targeted amount, then they are required to contribute the unspent money to the Funds mentioned in Scheduled VII, for example, PM’s National Relief Fund.
  • Companies may retain amounts only to the extent required for on-going projects. There will be rule-making for what are eligible on-going projects. Even in case of such on-going projects, the amount required will be put into a special account within 30 days from the end of the financial year, from where it must be spent within the next 3 years, and if not spent, will once again be transferable to the Funds mentioned in Schedule VII.
  • Failure to comply with the provisions makes the company liable to a fine, but very seriously, officers of the company will be liable to be imprisoned for upto 3 years, or pay a fine extending to Rs 5 lacs. Given the fact that the major focus of the Injecti Srinivas Committee Report, which the Ordinance tried to implement, was to restrict custodial punishment only to most grave offences involving public interest, this by itself is an outlier.

Unfit and improper persons not to manage companies

The concept of undesirable persons managing companies was there in sections 388B to 388E of the Companies Act, 1956. These sections were dropped by the recommendations of the JJ Irani Committee. Similar provisions are now making a comeback, by insertions in sections 241 to 243 of the Act. These insertions obviously seem a reaction to the recent spate of corporate scandals particularly in the financial sector. Provisions smacking similar were recently added in the RBI Act by the Finance Bill.

The amendment in section 241 empowers the Central Govt to move a matter before the NCLT against managerial personnel on several grounds. The grounds themselves are fairly broadly worded, and have substantial amplitude to allow the Central Govt to substantiate its case. Included in the grounds are matters like fraud, misfeasance, persistent negligence, default in carrying out

obligations and functions under the law, breach of trust. While these are still criminal or quasi-criminal charges, the  notable one is  not conducting the business of the company on  “sound business principles or prudent commercial practices”. Going by this, in case of every failed business model, at least in hindsight, one may allege the persons in charge of the management were unfit and improper.

Once the NCLT has passed an order against such managerial person, such person shall not hold as a director, or “any other office connected with the conduct and management of the affairs of any

Company”. This would mean the indicted person has to mandatorily take a gardening leave of 5 years!

Disgorgement of properties in case of corporate frauds

In case of corporate frauds revealed by investigation by SFIO, the Govt may make an application to NCLT for passing appropriate orders for disgorgement of profits or assets of an officer or person or entity which has obtained undue benefit.