Responsibility by rod: MCA adjudication orders deal punches of penalty for CSR breaches

– Vinod Kothari |

If the intent of CSR provisions coded in the law was to promote socially responsible conduct on the part of companies, that lesson of responsibility is being taught the very hard, indiscriminately harsh way – by imposing penalties of 2X of the amount involved in CSR breaches, even if the breach was a pure timing mismatch. By now, there are several such adjudication orders – purely as an example, is  where the order clearly notes that there has been no failure on the part of the company to spend the failed amount of Rs 14.50 lacs. The amount was indeed spent, as intended for “ongoing projects”, but there mere segregation of this money into a separate bank account, required to be done within 30 days, was missing. Applying the provisions of sec. 135 (7) which provides for a “penalty of twice the amount” which failed the segregation requirement, though it did not fail the spending requirement.

There are several points that arise here: segregation of the amounts meant to be spent for ongoing projects is merely a ring-fencing requirement, such that companies are aware of the purpose for parking the money, and such money is indeed not commingled with the company’s own funds. If the funds are indeed spent for the purpose for which they are to be segregated, the failure to segregate is, at the most, the failure of the method and not the ultimate result. The failure was transient, and only a timing issue, and not a substantive failure. Therefore, even if punishable, the punishment could not have been the maximum amount provided by the law.

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