-by Dibisha Mishra
(email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org)
SEBI vide Notification dated 25th July, 2019 further amended the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015. The major part of this amendment is to make curative changes in the Regulations, in response to difficulties expressed by the stakeholders. In this regard, VK&Co. also had occasion to make representation to SEBI, a few of which have been brought in via this amendment.
Highlights of the SEBI (PIT) (Second Amendment) Regulations, 2019.are as follows:
- Employees having access to unpublished price sensitive information are to be identified as ‘designated persons’ [DPs]: Keeping the intent of regulating and monitoring trading by such employees, the earlier provision of identifying them as ‘designated employees’ was merely a laxity in drafting since no corresponding duties/obligations were put upon ‘designated employees’ anywhere in the PIT Regulations.
- Mandatory closure of trading window from the end of every quarter till 48 hours after the declaration of financial results [the word ‘can’ substituted by ‘shall’]
- Permitted transactions by DPs while trading window is closed:
a. off-market inter-se transfer between DPs having possession of the same unpublished price sensitive information where both parties have made informed trade decision;
b. transaction through block-deal mechanism between persons having possession of the same unpublished price sensitive information where both parties have made informed trade decision;
c. arising out of a statutory or regulatory obligation to carry out a bona fide transaction;
d. exercise of stock options in respect of which the exercise price was pre-determined;
e. pursuant to a trading plan;
f. pledge of shares for a bonafide purpose like raising of funds subject to pre-clearance by the compliance office
g. acquisition by conversion of warrants or debentures, subscribing to rights issue, further public issue, preferential allotment or tendering of shares in a buyback offer, open offer, delisting offer: Difficulties were frequently being faced by companies as to whether the trading window bar will apply to corporate actions involving transaction in shares. This amendment makes a clear way out for the same. While only a few corporate actions are listed in the amendment, these should be taken as illustrative rather than exhaustive.
4. In order to qualify as a “material financial relationship”, payment by way of loan or gift should flow from a designated person equivalent to at least 25% of his annual income [excluding payment is based on arm’s length transactions] in last twelve months.
5. Educational institutions from which designated persons have graduated, is to be disclosed to the intermediary or fiduciary on an annual basis and as and when the information changes.
Partner, Vinod Kothari and Company
The listed entities are burdened with the compliance requirements under numerous regulations issued by SEBI including the SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015 (‘PIT Regulations’). The said regulations lay down various to dos for the listed companies as well as the designated persons (‘DP’) for the purpose of regulating and prohibiting the insider trading in the securities of the listed company.
SEBI has vide its circular dated 19th July, 2019 laid a format for reporting insider trading lapses thereby forcing all companies to follow a standard reporting format. The existing practice of companies using rather informal and self- generated reporting formats will no longer be available to them.
It is not that insider trading lapses noted by companies are those of profiteering based on Unpublished Price Sensitive Information (UPSI). Most of the noted instances in practice are technical and unintentional breaches of either the trading window closure or contra trading restrictions. Most of these are reported to the audit committee or stakeholder’s relationship committee which typically takes action based on the gravity of the offence. However, reporting to SEBI was done on a rather diminutive manner.
Further, the circular also provides for recording the violations in the digital database maintained by the compliance officer under the PIT Regulations for the purpose of taking appropriate action against the offender. The said circular is effective with immediate effect.
Current Reporting Scenario
The current practice of the corporates for reporting the violation under the code (either for entering into contra-trade within a period of six months or trading during the closure of trading window, etc.) along with the action taken by the entity is diverse. While some companies used to mark a copy of the reprimand to SEBI while sending the same to the concerned DP or their immediate relatives, others used to send a brief of the violation along with the action taken to SEBI depending on the frequency and gravity of the violation so made in accordance with their respective codes.
The revised reporting format contains all the required fields for the entity (listed entity, intermediary or fiduciary) to report the violation to SEBI. Following is the summary of details that is mandatory required to be filled up about the entity, the DP or his immediate relative and the violation along with the action taken by the entity:
|Information about the entity||Information about the DP/ immediate relative||Transaction details|
|· Name and capacity of the entity.
· Action taken by the entity.
· Reasons for the action taken.
|· Name and PAN.
· Designation and functional role of DP.
· Whether a part of the promoter and promoter group or holding CXO position.
|· Name of the scrip
· No. and value of shares traded (including pledge)
· In case trading value exceeds Rs. 10 lakhs date of disclosure made under regulation 7 of the PIT Regulations by both the entity as well as the concerned person.
· Details of violation observed under the PIT Regulations.
· Instances of any violation in the previous financial year.
Evidently, the format contains concrete information about the violation which will place SEBI in a better position to oversee and take on record the instances of violation taking place in the regulated entities. While the current practice had deficiencies in terms of the basic information supplied to SBI, the revised reporting format will take care of the same henceforth.
However, the prompt reporting will be a task for the entities. At the same time, SEBI will now be in receipt of the complete information on the offence and may take strict action against the offender or may even direct the entities to take stricter action in cases where it feels the action taken is not commensurate with the nature and gravity of the violation.
Our other resources on SEBI PIT Regulations can be viewed here
By Falak Dutta (email@example.com)
Ruling of Bombay High Court
The Bombay High Court on March 27, 2019, in the case of Edelweiss Financial Services v. Percept Finserve Pvt. Ltd., ruled out an award passed by a sole arbitrator with respect to a share purchase agreement (SPA). The High Court allowed enforcing of a put option clause to be exercised by Edelweiss, the appellant, to sell back the shares it had acquired from Percept Group, the respondent.
Before delving into the proceedings of the aforesaid case, it is important to understand certain basic concepts, to appreciate the ‘option clause’ in the case. An option is a derivative contract which gives the holder the right but not the obligation to buy (call) or sell (put) the underlying within a stipulated time in exchange for a premium. Options are not just traded on exchanges but are also used in debt instruments (eg. callable and puttable bonds), private equity and venture capital investment covenants. Even insurance is a type of option contract where the insured pays monthly premium in exchange of a monetary claim upon the future occurrence of a contingent event (accident, disease, damage to property etc.).
Facts of the case
Edelweiss Financial Services Pvt. Ltd. entered into a share purchase agreement (SPA) dated 8, December, 2007 with the Percept Group where it invested in the shares of Percept Group subject to a condition that the latter shall restructure itself as agreed between the parties followed by an IPO. Under the terms of the SPA, the appellant (Edelweiss) purchased 228,374 shares for a consideration of Rs. 20 crores. One of the conditions in the agreement, required Percept to entirely restructure by 31st December, 2007 and to provide proof of such restructuring. Upon failure of compliance by the respondent, the date was further extended to 30 June, 2008 with obligation to provide documentary evidence of completion by 15th, July 2008. Upon non-fulfillment within the extended date, Edelweiss had the option to re-sell the shares to Percept, where Percept was obligated to purchase the shares at a price which gave the appellant an internal rate of return of 10% on the original purchase price.
As was the case, Percept failed to restructure itself within the stipulated time. Subsequently in view of this breach Edelweiss exercised the put option and Percept was required to buy back the shares for a total consideration of Rs. 22 crores. Since the respondent refused to comply the appellant invoked the arbitration clause in the SPA and a sole arbitrator was appointed to adjudicate the dispute. The arbitrator submitted that despite Percept being in breach of the conditions in the SPA, the petitioner’s claim to exercise the put option was illegal and unenforceable, being in conflict with the Securities Contracts regulation Act (SCRA), 1956. The unenforceability was proposed on two grounds. First, for the clause being a forward contract prohibited under Section 16 of SCRA read with SEBI March 2000 notification, which recognizes only spot delivery transactions to be valid. Secondly these clauses were illegal because they contained an option concerning a future purchase of shares and were thus a derivatives contract not traded on a recognized stock exchange and thus were illegal under Section 18 of SCRA, which deals with derivative trading.
Aggrieved by the arbitrator’s order, Edelweiss challenged it before the Bombay High Court under section 34 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, 1996.
The Bombay High Court observed the reasoning of the order by the arbitrator and the contentions made by Percept. The said order confirmed the breach caused by Percept, but found the particular clauses of put option in the SPA to be illegal under two grounds as mentioned earlier. The Court divided the judgement along the sections involved.
The first of the arbitrator’s conclusion was found untenable when referred to the judgement in the case of MCX Stock Exchange Ltd. vs. SEBI which deals with such a purchase option as in the present case. The Court observed that the put option clause contained in the SPA cannot be a derivatives contract prohibited by SCRA, because there was no present obligation at all and the obligation arose by reason of a contingency occurring in the future. The contract only came into being upon the following two conditions being met: (i) failure of the condition attributable to Percept (ii) exercise of the option by Edelweiss upon such failure. Whereas a forward contract is an unconditional obligation, the option in the SPA only comes into being when the aforesaid conditions are met. Thus, the arbitrator’s claim of the clause being a forward contract disregards the law stated by the Court in MCX Stock (supra).
Subsequently, respondent (Percept Group) challenged the relevance of the MCX Stock case to the present one. In the MCX Stock Exchange case, upon the exercise of the option the contract would be fulfilled by means of a spot delivery, that is, by immediate settlement. Whereas Edelweiss’s letter by which it exercised the put option required the shares to be re-purchased with immediate effect or before 12 Jan, 2009. This deferral of repurchase upon exercise of the option was not part of the MCX Stock Exchange case’s option clause and hence is not comparable to the present case.
This too was disregarded by the Court on the ground:
“It is submitted that in as much as this exercise of options demands repurchase on or before a future date, it is not a contract excepted by the circular of the SEBI dated 1 March, 2000.
Just because the original vendor of securities is given an option to complete repurchase of securities by a particular date it cannot be said that the contract for repurchase is on any basis other than spot delivery.
There is nothing to suggest that there is any time lag between payment of price and delivery of shares.”
Now, this brings us to the second leg of the arbitrator’s award regarding the illegality and unenforceability of the SPA option on account of breach of Section 18A of SCRA, which deals in derivative trading. The following is an excerpt from Section 18A:
Contracts in derivative. — Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, contracts in derivative shall be legal and valid if such contracts are—
(a)Traded on a recognized stock exchange;
(b) Settled on the clearing house of the recognized stock exchange. In accordance with the rules and bye-laws of such stock exchange.
The respondent appeals that as the put option was not of a recognized stock exchange, it stands unenforceable and illegal. In response, the court submitted that the contract does contain a put option in securities which the holder may or may not exercise. But the real question is whether such option or its exercise is illegal? The presence of the option does not make it bad or impermissible.
“What the law prohibits is not entering into a call or put option per se; what it prohibits is trading or dealing in such option treating it as a security. Only when it is traded or dealt with, it attracts the embargo of law as a derivative, that is to say, a security derived from an underlying debt or equity instrument.”
There was further cross objections filed by the respondent but it was ruled out under Section 34 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, which deals with the application for setting aside arbitral award. Since the provisions of Civil Procedure Code, 1908 are not applicable to the proceedings under Section 34 and the section itself does not make any provision for filing of cross objections, the appeal was ruled out.
This Bombay High Court ruling in favor of Edelweiss provides an important distinction of options, from forward contracts. It highlighted that although both options and forwards are commonly categorized as derivatives, they share an important difference. On one hand, a forward contract contains a contractual obligation to buy or sell, on the other hand, the option gives the holder the right or choice but not the obligation to do the same. Options have always been integral to finance, routinely appearing in corporate covenants and contracts. Options are widely observed in mezzanine financing, private equity, start-up and venture funding among others. Given the Court’s distinction of forwards from options in their very essence and nature, the author believes this ruling is likely to be useful and a point of reference in future derivative litigations.
By Munmi Phukon
Principal Manager, Vinod Kothari & Company
How does a person get into the board of directors of a listed entity? Simply because he happens to be a majority shareholder, or the son of the promoter, or a morning-walk friend of the promoter? Or, is it that a listed company is expecting supervisory leadership to come from a body consisting of individuals with diverse skills and competencies? What are those key competences and skill sets required from directors, and which of the company’s directors possess which of these abilities? These are questions that listed entities and their stakeholders might have either not put before themselves, or even if considered, may not have had structured answers to these questions. However, come this year, every listed entity shall give a list of core skills/ expertise/ competencies of the Board members, and come next year, the names of the directors who actually possess such skills/ expertise/ competencies.
In the above para, one is referring to a new provision under Para C of Schedule V pertaining to the contents of corporate governance report which reads as follows:
“C. Corporate Governance Report: The following disclosures shall be made in the section on the corporate governance of the annual report.
(h) A chart or a matrix setting out the skills/expertise/competence of the board of directors specifying the following:
(i) With effect from the financial year ending March 31, 2019, the list of core skills/expertise/competencies identified by the board of directors as required in the context of its business(es) and sector(s) for it to function effectively and those actually available with the board; and
(ii) With effect from the financial year ended March 31, 2020, the names of directors who have such skills / expertise / competence.”
Importance & objectives of having a diverse Board
The importance of a diverse and skilled Board is recognised around the world. It is more than a necessity considering the complex and dynamic business environment. The Board is the set of leaders who provide comprehensive guidance, support and direction to the company towards its success. The objective of having skilled Board is manifold considering the involvement of public money, be it of the public shareholders, lenders or other creditors. Stakeholders are concerned about the attitude of the firm towards corporate governance as a diverse set of individuals collectively known as Board cannot take a casual approach on the management of the firm sitting on the pile of public money. Therefore, it is always required for the NRC to have a clear view as to what is being expected from the directors, what would be the set of skills, competencies, expertise, knowledge etc. that would be possessed by the directors, whether the same is broad based and also, to ensure an effective evaluation mechanism.
What does law require?
Till the amendments in the Listing Regulations coming into force, Regulation 36 required disclosure of the nature of the expertise in specific functional areas of a proposed appointee including a person seeking re-appointment to the shareholders. Further, Rule 5 of the Companies (Appointment and Qualification of Directors) Rules provided the qualification of the independent directors as persons who shall possess appropriate skills, experience and knowledge in one or more fields of finance, law, management, sales, marketing, administration, research, corporate governance, technical operations or other disciplines related to the company’s business.
The new requirement of disclosure has been framed based on the Kotak Committee Recommendations whose rationale was primarily based on the fact that the existing requirement of law was not sufficient to the shareholders for their adequate analysis whether the Board of the company has sufficient mix of diverse expertise/ skill- sets.
The broad parameters
The Board is responsible for shaping the future of the organisation within its fiduciary characteristics. Therefore, identifying the key competencies of the Board members is very much essential to ensure that the qualified persons undertake this cardinal role. Globally, identifying the key competencies of Board members is considered as the step towards a successful Board. Broadly, the parameters for identifying key competencies or skill- set can be categorised as follows:
Industry knowledge/ experience
Having experience in and knowledge of the industry in which the organisation operates is one of the key competencies of a Board member. This is required for achieving the objectives of the organisation while operating effectively, responsibly, legally and sustainably. The Board members are required to demonstrate an understanding of-
- the relevant laws, rules, regulation policies applicable to the organisation/ industry/ sector and level/ status of compliances thereof by the organisation
- the best corporate governance practices, relevant governance codes, governance structure, processes and practices followed by the organisation
- business ethics, ethical policies, codes and practices of the organisation
- the structures and systems which enable the organisation to effectively identify, asses and manage risks and crises
- international practice
Technical skills/ experience
To assist with the ongoing aspects of Board’s role, the members are required to possess technical/ professional skills and specialist knowledge. The directors need to be able to obtain, analyse, interpret and use information effectively to develop plans and take appropriate decisions. In order to assess possession of such skills, the person will be required to have knowledge about-
- how to interpret financial statements and accounts in order to assess the financial health of an organisation
- the sources of finance available to an organisation and their related merits and risks
- how to assess the financial value of an organisation and potential business opportunities
- importance of information technology in the organisation
- marketing or other specific skills required for the effective performance of the organisation
Behavioural competencies/ personal attributes
Displaying high standards of conduct, ability to take responsibility for their own performance etc. are some of the behavioural competencies which the directors are required to possess. Interpersonal skills such as good communication skills, relationship building capacity etc. will come under this category. In brief, the following will be sub- sets under this head-
- Integrity and ethical standards
- Mentoring abilities
- Interpersonal relations
- Managing people and achieving change
- Curiosity and courage
- Genuine interest
- Active contribution
To create and implement effective strategies, a thorough knowledge of the strategic process is required. The ability to think strategically enables directors to propose ideas, options and plans that take advantage of available opportunities while reflecting a broad and future-oriented perspective. Having an understanding of the need for a clear vision and purpose to guide the strategy, models and methods of strategic analysis, option analysis the factors involved in successful strategy implementation by the directors is required for giving a strategic direction to the organisation. The sub- sets under this head may be as below:
- Strategic thinking
- Vision and value creation
- Strategy Development
- Strategy implementation and change
Mind- set or attitude
An ethical mind- set demonstrates a high standards of conduct. Further, professional attitude and independent mind- set enables director to provide the challenge and rigour required to help the Board achieve a comprehensive understanding of information and options, as well as high standards of decision-making. The head may be segregated into the following:
- Performance oriented
- Aware of self and others
Other skills may include decision making, communication, leadership, influencing, risk oversight, risk management, stakeholder relations etc. Good decision-making skills is required in order to arrive at a course of action in a timely manner that provides a clear direction and moves the organisation forward. Similarly, strong leadership skills enable directors to solve problems, cope up with the crises and change, and inspire others to follow them in pursuit of the values and goals of the organisation. The ability to build good networks and relationships within and beyond the organisation is important for the director to gain influence, have impact and progress organisational goals. The ability to communicate effectively through a variety of modes and channels and with a range of audiences is necessary for directors to work successfully with others and to fulfil their duties on the Board. Directors need to understand how to deliver effective leadership, build good stakeholder relations and develop a strategically aligned and values-based organisational culture in order to achieve good organisational performance. Therefore, the sub- sets hereunder may be-
- decision making skills
- communication skills
- leadership skills
- risk oversight
- risk management skills
- stakeholder relations
Suggestive format of reporting
|Broad parameter||Specific skills/ expertise/ competency
|Director 1||Director 2||Director 3|
Industry knowledge & experience
|Understanding of the relevant laws, rules, regulation policies applicable to the organisation/ industry/ sector and level/ status of compliances thereof by the organisation
|Understanding of the best corporate governance practices, relevant governance codes, governance structure, processes and practices followed by the organisation
|Understanding of business ethics, ethical policies, codes and practices of the organisation
|Understanding of the structures and systems which enable the organisation to effectively identify, asses and manage risks and crises
|Understanding of international practice
The amendments require listing out of the key skills/ competencies of the Board as a part of the corporate governance report for FY 18-19. From subsequent FYs, the disclosure will have to be by way of a matrix signifying the directors actually carrying such skills. It is anticipated that such a disclosure will help the shareholders to analyse the diversity of expertise/ skill – sets of the Board. This is believed that disclosure of each of the skills against the directors will make them responsible for each of the skills. Therefore, a director will not be able to escape responsibility with the shield of immunity provided by law which is circumstantial.
CS Nitu Poddar, Senior Associate, Vinod Kothari & Company
SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015 (‘Regulations’) is applicable in relation to securities listed and proposed to be listed. Companies having its debentures listed are also required to comply with the provisions of the Regulations. The intent of the Regulations is to prohibit trading in listed securities while in possession of Unpublished Price Sensitive Information (UPSI). UPSI has been defined to mean such information that is not generally available and which can materially affect the price of the securities on becoming generally available and includes information in relating to financial results, dividends, change in capital structure, restructuring and changes in key managerial personnel.
UPSI in case of debt listed entities
Sensitivity of an information largely depends on the kind of security it is associated with; Information that may be regarded as UPSI for an equity listed entity may not necessarily affect prices of the debt listed. For example, declaration of dividend is price sensitive information for an equity listed entity but may not have any impact on the debt listed. The reason for the same is that debentures receive fixed rate of interest and is not at the discretion of the management. However, default/ expected default in payment of interest on a loan is price sensitive information as it may result in non-service of obligations in relation to the debt listed too.
Generally speaking, the information with respect to the financial position of the company,revision in ratings, instance of defaultmade by the company in repayment of any debt or any such information which affects the payment of principal and /or interest of the debentures are probable price sensitive information for listed debt securities.
Given the uniform applicability of the Regulation for all listed companies, there are certain implementation issues with respect to the closure of trading window in case of debt listed company which has been discussed in this article.
Closure of Trading Window in case of Financial Results
Trading Window denotes a notional window used as an instrument of monitoring the trades of Designated Persons. A Designated Person is permitted to trade only when the Trading Window is not closed.
As per Para 4 of Schedule B to the Regulations, it is mandatoryfor all listed companies to close its Trading Windowfrom the end of “every quarter” till 48 hours after the declaration of financial results.
“Trading restriction period can be made applicable from the end of every quarter till 48 hours after the declaration of financial results”
An equity listed entity is required to submit financial results on a quarterly basis. In case of debt listed entity, listed entities are required to submit un-audited or audited financial results on a half yearly basis. If the debt listed entity is a subsidiary of an equity listed entity, in that case it is required to submit financial results on quarterly basis for consolidation purpose.
The quarterly results so submitted may not be published on the website of the debt listed entity; however, the information becomes generally available by forming part of the consolidated financial results.
Accordingly, few pertinent questions that arise are:
- Should the trading window of a debt listed entity be closed from the end of every quarter till the declaration of financial results by the company which will happen only after the completion of a half year?
- Should the debt listed company close the trading window every quarter while submitting results to holding company for consolidation purpose?
|Quarters/ Half Year||Timeline for submission of results to stock exchange||Period of trading window closure in case debt listed entity has not holding company.||Period of trading window closure in case of submission of results for consolidation.|
|April to June (Q1)||–||Not required||From July 1 till 48 hours of declaration of consolidated results by holding company.|
April – September (HY 1)
From October 1 till 48 hours after declaration of financial results
|From October 1 till 48 hours after declaration of financial results by debt listed entity.|
|October – December (Q3)||–||Not required||From January 1 till 48 hours of declaration of consolidated results by holding company.|
|January – March (Q4)
October – March (HY 2)
From April 1 till 48 hours after declaration of financial results.
|From April 1 till 48 hours after declaration of financial results by debt listed entity.|
It is to be noted that, with the amended provisions in place, the tenure of closure of Trading Window got elongated and covers almost 180 days/ 6 months of the year. Now, if the provisions of PIT, for a debt listed company, are interpreted in a way that the window should be closed from the end of each quarter and opened once the financial results are declared after the half year, one can easily imagine that the window is closed for almost the 8-9 months of the year! Does that mean that the designated person of such companies will be allowed barely 3 months for trading? Taking such a view will be squarely impractical.
A debt listed company which is not a subsidiary of an equity listed holding company, cannot be mandated to close trading window every quarter merely to comply with Schedule B requirements. This will result in absolute impractical situation.
Where the debt listed company is required to share quarterly financials for consolidation purpose,standalone financial results of the debtlisted company are notpublished separately. Accordingly, the UPSI becomes published and publicly available, to the extent of consolidated figures, on declaration of results by the holding company and therefore, keeping up with the intent of closing of the Trading Window (to prohibit trading by designated person while in possession of UPSI) it will be appropriate to interpret that the trading window of such debt listed companies should be closed quarterly and opened after 48 hours of declaration of consolidated financial results by the holding company to public.
Compliances for sharing of financial result with the Parent company
So far as sharing of the quarterly results of the debt listed company with the holding company is concerned, the same being for legitimate purpose, certain compliances have to be ensured by the debt listed company in line with its code of conduct viz.
- Promoters are regarded as Designated Persons under the Regulations. Therefore, signing of non-disclosure / confidentiality agreement with the holding company may not be required;
- Designated Person shall not trade in the listed securities of the debt listed company until the information becomes generally available either pursuant to publishing of financial results by the debt listed entity or publishing of consolidated figures by holding company, as applicable.
- Entry to be made in the structured digital database in relation to sharing of information with employees of the holding company.
Securities and Exchange Board of India (Prohibition of Insider Trading) (Amendment) Regulations, 2018 (w.e.f. April 01, 2019)
By Falak Dutta, (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Since the Sarada scam in 2015, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had been on high alert and had been subsequently tightening regulations for NBFCs, micro-finance firms and such other companies which provide informal banking services. As of December 2015, over 56 NBFC licenses were cancelled. However, recently in light of the uncertain credit environment (recall DHFL and IF&LS) among other reasons, RBI has cancelled around 400 licenses in 2018 primarily due to a shortfall in Net Owned Funds (NOF) among other reasons. The joint entry of the Central Govt. regulators and RBI to calm the volatility in the markets on September 21st, 2018 after an intra-day fall of over 1000 points amid default concerns of DHFL warrants concern. Had it been two isolated incidents the regulators and Union government would have been unlikely to step in. The RBI & SEBI issued a joint statement on September saying they were prepared to step in if market volatility warrants such a situation. This suggests a situation which is more than what meets the eye.
Coming back to NBFCs, over half of the cancelled NBFC licenses in 2018 could be attributed to shortfall in NOFs. NOF is described in Section 45 IA of the RBI Act, 1934. It defines NOF as:
1) “Net owned fund” means–
(a) The aggregate of the paid-up equity capital and free reserves as disclosed in the latest
Balance sheet of the company after deducting therefrom–
(i) Accumulated balance of loss;
(ii) Deferred revenue expenditure; and
(iii) Other intangible assets; and
(b) Further reduced by the amounts representing–
(1) Investments of such company in shares of–
(i) Its subsidiaries;
(ii) Companies in the same group;
(iii) All other non-banking financial companies; and
(2) The book value of debentures, bonds, outstanding loans and advances
(including hire-purchase and lease finance) made to, and deposits with,–
(i) Subsidiaries of such company; and
(ii) Companies in the same group, to the extent such amount exceeds ten per cent of (a) above.
At present, the threshold amount that has to be maintained is stipulated at 2 crore, from the previous minimum of 25 lakhs. Previously, to meet this requirement of Rs. 25 lakh a time period of three years was given. During this tenure, NBFCs were allowed to carry on business irrespective of them not meeting business conditions. Moreover, this period could be extended by a further 3 years, which should not exceed 6 years in aggregate. However, this can only be done after stating the reason in writing and this extension is in complete discretion of the RBI. The failure to maintain this threshold amount within the stipulated time had led to this spurge of license cancellations in 2018.
However, the Madras High Court judgement dated 29-1-2019 came as a big relief to over 2000 NBFCs whose license had been cancelled due a delay in fulfilling the shortfall.
On 27-3-2015 the RBI by notification No. DNBR.007/CGM(CDS)-2015 specified two hundred lakhs rupees as the NOF required for an NBFC to commence or carry on the business. It further stated that an NBFC holding a CoR and having less than two hundred lakh rupees may continue to carry on the business, if such a company achieves the NOF of one hundred lakh rupees before 1-04-2016 and two hundred lakhs of rupees before 1-04-2017.
The Petitioner’s claim
The petition was filed by 4 NBFCs namely Nahar Finance & Leasing Ltd., Lodha Finance India Ltd., Valluvar Development Finance Pvt. Ltd. and Senthil Finance Pvt. Ltd. for the cancellation of CoR against the RBI. The petitioners claim that they had been complying with all the statutory regulations and regularly filing various returns and furnishing the required information to the Registrar of Companies. These petitions were in response to the RBI issued Show Cause Notices to the petitioners proposing to cancel the CoR and initiate penal action. The said SCNs were responded to by the petitioners contending that they had NOF of Rs.104.50 lakhs, Rs.34.19 lakhs, Rs.79.50 lakhs and Rs.135 lakhs respectively, as on 31.03.2017.
Valluvar Development Finance also sent a reply stating that they had achieved the required NOF on 23-10-2017, attaching a certificate from the Statutory Auditor to support its claim. The other petitioners however submitted that due to significant change in the economy including the policies of the Govt. of India during the fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18 like de-monetization and implementation of Goods & Services Tax, the entire working of the finance sector was impaired and as such sought extension of time till 31-03-2019 to comply with the requirements.
Now despite seeking extension of time, having given explanations to the SCNs, the CoRs were cancelled without an opportunity for the NBFCs to be heard.
It was argued that there is a remedy provided against the cancellation of the CoRs, the petitioners had chosen to invoke Article 226 contending violation of the principles of justice. The proviso to Section 45-IA(6) relates to the contentions in regards to cancellation of the CoRs.
“45-IA. Requirement of registration and net owned fund –
(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), a non-banking financial company in existence on the commencement of the Reserve Bank of India (Amendment) Act, 1997 and having a net owned fund of less than twenty five lakhs rupees may, for the purpose of enabling such company to fulfill the requirement of the net owned fund, continue to carry on the business of a non-banking financial institution–
(i) for a period of three years from such commencement; or
(ii) for such further period as the Bank may, after recording the reasons in writing for so doing, extend,
subject to the condition that such company shall, within three months of fulfilling the requirement of the net owned fund, inform the Bank about such fulfillment:
Provided further that before making any order of cancellation of certificate of registration, such company shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.
(7) A company aggrieved by the order of rejection of application for registration or cancellation of certificate of registration may prefer an appeal, within a period of thirty days from the date on which such order of rejection or cancellation is communicated to it, to the Central Government and the decision of the Central Government where an appeal has been preferred to it, or of the Bank where no appeal has been preferred, shall be final:
Provided that before making any order of rejection of appeal, such company shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.
The decision was taken on two grounds. First, the statute specifically provides for an opportunity of personal hearing besides calling for an explanation. The amended provision is very particular that opportunity of being personally heard is mandatory, as the very amendment relates to finance companies, which are already carrying on business also. Not affording this opportunity would cripple the business of the petitioners.
Second, the amended section provides NBFCs sufficient time to enhance their NOF by carrying on business and comply with the notifications. For the aforesaid reasons, the orders by the RBI requires interference. Resultantly, the respondents (RBI authorities) are directed to restore the CoR of the petitioners and also extend the time given to the petitioners.
This was a landmark hearing in the case of NBFCs as they had been under increasing pressure as of recent times. Many NBFCs can now apply for restoration of their licenses and might already have. The case doesn’t just stand the case for NOF conflicts but will also ring in the minds of regulators in the future, compelling greater caution and concern. The last statement of the judgement stands apt here. The brief sentence read,” Consequently connected miscellaneous petitions are closed.”
 Certificate of Registration