The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2020: Decriminalizing offences under the Companies Act, 2013

Governmental authorities in India have, from time to time, implemented various measures to facilitate ease of doing business for companies operating in India including, inter alia, by way of amendments to the Companies Act, 2013 (the “Act”). In the past 1 (one) year, these reforms have focused on introducing new mechanisms for swift adjudication of offences, and decriminalization and rationalization of criminal penalties, particularly in relation to minor, technical or procedural non-compliances under the Act.

The objective of decriminalization and recategorization of offences that was introduced by the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019 is now sought to be augmented by the Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2020 (the “CAB 2020”) which was recently presented in the Lok Sabha on March 17, 2020. CAB 2020 has, amongst other matters, proposed amendments in respect of decriminalization of various compoundable offences and rationalization of penalties prescribed under the Act. CAB 2020 is currently awaiting legislative consideration.

In this note, we discuss the continuing efforts of the Indian governmental authorities towards streamlining the processes for dealing with certain non-compliances under the Act, and analyze if the critical changes proposed by CAB 2020 for further decriminalization of offences and alteration of penalties under the Act is a step in the right direction.


COVID-19: Implications on the Data Protection Framework in India

The outbreak of COVID-19 and its development into a pandemic has led governments across the world to take extraordinary measures to protect their residents. The Central Government and various State Governments in India, along with public-health authorities, not-for-profit organizations and corporates, are collecting, tracking, and using information about individuals to slow down the spread of COVID-19; however, since a large proportion of such information could be categorized as ‘personal data’ or ‘sensitive personal data’ its use is subject to the data protection laws in India. It is, therefore, essential that a balance is struck between an individual’s right to privacy and public interest at large. Separately, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, corporates are also required to implement aberrant measures to safeguard their employees and extended workforce. In this regard, the collection of personal data by corporates will need to be undertaken in compliance with the requirements of data protection laws in India.

This note discusses the use of technology platforms by the Government of India to curtail the spread of COVID-19 and the obligations of corporates in India in relation to their employees or business, in each case, in the context of the legal framework for data protection in India.


COVID-19: Certain Issues to Consider for Listed Indian Companies

While corporations across the globe brace for the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their business, operations and financial results, listed companies need to be mindful of additional compliance requirements and responsibilities. This note discusses certain considerations which are relevant for listed Indian companies in the current COVID-19 scenario in relation to (i) periodic disclosures and reporting; (ii) board and shareholder meetings; (iii) impact on financial results and annual report; (iv) trading when in possession of UPSI and during trading window closure; (v) fund-raising; and (vi) duties of directors. As a practical matter, these considerations will continue to be relevant even in the future while tackling the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic or other crisis situations.


COVID-19 Pandemic: Relief Measures and Restructuring Options in India

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, several corporate borrowers will find themselves in challenging financial circumstances that may require negotiations with their lenders or even full-fledged restructuring. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Indian courts have granted temporary relief measures to offset the strain on borrowers. If required by borrowers or lenders, India offers the following out-of-court and in-court restructuring and enforcement mechanisms: (i) the RBI Framework for Resolution of Stressed Assets (introduced in June 2019); (ii) the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002 (SARFAESI Act); and (iii) the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC). This note sets out such mechanisms and available relief measures. Given that the situation is constantly evolving, borrowers and lenders should remain vigilant about tracking legal and regulatory developments.


COVID-19: Temporary Easing of SEBI Fund-raising Rules

With a view to facilitate fund-raising from the capital markets in the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Securities and Exchange Board of India has decided to grant certain relaxations from the provisions of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Issue of Capital and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2018, as amended, to public issues (both initial and further public offerings) and rights issues. The relaxations, which are contained in two separate SEBI circulars each dated April 21, 2020, essentially relate to (i) the validity of the SEBI observations, (ii) the requirement to file a fresh draft offer document in case of change in issue size and (iii) certain conditions applicable to rights issues.


Foreign Direct Investment in India: Impact of Press Note 3 of 2020

On April 17, 2020, Press Note No. 3 (2020 Series) was issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India. The Press Note seeks to curb opportunistic takeovers and acquisitions of Indian companies by Chinese investors and companies due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Press Note has far-reaching implications on the overall FDI regime. This note analyzes some key considerations arising from the changes introduced by the Press Note, including (i) interpretation of ‘beneficial owner’; (ii) impact on indirect foreign investment; (iii) exercise of warrants and options and schemes of mergers; and (iv) bonus and rights issuances.


COVID-19 and the Workplace: An Employer’s Perspective

In a significant move, the Government of India implemented a nationwide lockdown in India in a bid to contain the COVID-19 pandemic with effect from March 25, 2020. The lockdown was initially expected to last until April 14, 2020 but has been extended until May 3, 2020. During the lockdown period, all private and commercial establishments are required to be closed down, with certain exceptions. While several employers have been providing work from home facilities to their employees during the lockdown period, due to the uncertainty over the scope of the COVID-19 public health emergency and the impact on the economy, employers are now considering options for saving labour costs for business viability reasons, including by reducing salaries of employees and/or terminating their employment. We discuss these options in the attached note.


RBI Directions to NBFCs: Change of Shareholding Rule

Non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), as the name suggests, are companies that aren’t licensed to offer the full range of banking services. Instead, they provide a smaller bundle of financial services targeted towards particular groups. In order to provide credit to such groups, NBFCs need to raise capital at frequent intervals. Hence, raising capital is fundamental to the sector’s growth.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), India’s central bank, regulates NBFCs. One of the RBI’s most noteworthy rules pertains to the change of management and control of an NBFC. The RBI currently administers this rule through the Non-Banking Financial Companies (Approval of Acquisition or Transfer of Control) Directions, 2015 (NBFC Directions). It has been more than four years since the NBFC Directions came into effect. During this time, NBFCs have faced difficulties, particularly with its Change of Shareholding Rule. This note discusses its shortcomings and proffers a new rule to take its place.


COVID-19: Changes to India’s FDI Regime

In a significant move, the Indian Government has, in a bid to curb opportunistic takeovers of Indian companies as a result of COVID-19, directed that all investments from countries that share land borders with India will require prior regulatory approval. This change covers both direct and indirect investments and comes in the wake of recent acquisitions and exploration of investment opportunities by Chinese investors in India, scrutiny by the Indian securities regulator of Chinese ownership of portfolio investors and the introduction of stricter FDI regimes worldwide.


COVID-19 Pandemic: What to (or not to) do – A Quick Guide for Decision Makers

Following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the role of directors and senior management in taking appropriate measures, addressing concerns of various stakeholders and ensuring business continuity has become more important than ever. Directors and senior management should not only be cognizant of their duties and responsibilities during these turbulent times but also be mindful of the immediate and long term repercussions of their decisions on their respective businesses.

In recent times, there has been a deluge of orders, guidelines and notifications that have been issued by the Central government, state governments and various regulators in India to guide its citizens and the business corporations through the issues evolving in the course of COVID-19 pandemic. This note briefly sets out the key corporate governance and other related matters that the decisions makers should consider when responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and guiding their businesses through the lockdown and thereafter.