Foreign investment is a key contributor to India’s growth story and India continues to consistently experience growth in inflow of foreign direct investment (“FDI”). The Government of India has announced that the provisional figure of FDI inflow into India for the financial year ended March 31, 2023 was USD 71 billion and according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Investment Report, India remains a favored destination for global investors.
In this note we discuss certain key legal considerations for a foreign investor investing in India.
Compulsorily convertible debentures (“CCDs”), as the type suggests, are debentures that are compulsorily convertible into equity shares. CCDs first became prominent in the foreign direct investment (“FDI”) context in 2007 when Indian foreign exchange laws expressly recognized them as the only type of debentures that Indian companies could issue to raise FDI. The reason to disallow other types of debentures for FDI purposes was to curb debenture issuances to foreign investors in the guise of equity. Since the foreign exchange laws had established a FDI regime for equity instruments and a separate external commercial borrowing (“ECB”) regime for debt instruments, it was felt that Indian companies were bypassing the ECB route by issuing hybrid debt instruments under the FDI route. Thus, CCDs have been regarded as equity instruments for FDI purposes.
In November 2023, the Supreme Court of India (“Supreme Court”) delivered its judgment in IFCI Limited v. Sutanu Sinha that dealt with the question whether CCDs are to be treated as ‘debt’ or ‘equity’ in a different context. This note analyzes the Supreme Court judgment and the ‘repayment of principal’ test that courts have consistently applied to determine whether convertible debt instruments are regarded as ‘debt’ or ‘equity’.
On June 14, 2023, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) notified certain amendments to the SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (“SEBI Listing Regulations”). The amendments are designed to strengthen corporate governance in listed entities by enhancing shareholder suffrage and disclosure of material events. Notably, the amendments introduced a new Regulation 30A that is to be read with a newly inserted Clause 5A of Paragraph A of Part A of Schedule III to the SEBI Listing Regulations (“Clause 5A”). Regulation 30A mandates shareholders, promoters, promoter group entities, related parties, directors, key managerial personnel, and employees of a listed entity or of its holding company, subsidiary, or associate company (“Specified Persons”) to notify the listed entity as and when any of them enters into agreements covered by Clause 5A (“5A Agreements”).
This note highlights the key features of Clause 5A and outlines certain practical considerations for Specified Persons and listed entities.
In her Budget speech earlier this year, India’s Finance Minister had stated that the government would facilitate the establishment of ‘data embassies’ for the benefit of countries looking for digital continuity solutions. Such data embassies may be set up under the auspices of GIFT City in India’s first IFSC, located in Gujarat.
Accordingly, in order to allow countries and international companies to set up such embassies, the government may formulate a bespoke policy soon. To that end, it may notify specific norms, such as with respect to: (i) what a data embassy constitutes, (ii) the size and specifications of the data center necessary for such purpose, and (iii) whether data embassies can be virtual.
Further, such a policy will be expected to offer diplomatic immunity with respect to Indian regulations as far as the sovereign and commercial digital data of establishing entities is concerned. While it is likely that the lure of regulatory immunity will promote significant investment in India’s data industry – especially from technology infrastructure providers and cloud storage companies – India’s data embassy policy may allow for the storage of non-personal data only.
On the whole, this initiative appears to be part of a larger plan to build a trusted data storage ecosystem in India. As a novel device under public international law, data embassies have only recently become a viable option, especially among vulnerable states that face multifaceted uncertainties and threats. The idea of storing backups of critical state information in data embassies abroad – especially for the purpose of operating such databases from a secure, off-site center outside a state’s own borders – implies that such information remains available for retrieval in the event of a disaster or other emergency.
Consistent with India’s stated aims of becoming a data storage and cloud computing hub, as the country seeks to encourage foreign governments and businesses to establish ‘data embassies’ at Gujarat’s GIFT City, a bespoke policy may soon be formulated along the lines of Bahrain’s cloud law, as well as for the purpose of defining a ‘data embassy’ appropriately such that its underlying and/or associated infrastructure qualifies for diplomatic protection under international law. Alternatively, such entities could be instrumentalized through customized bilateral agreements that re-interpret the Vienna Convention (like Estonia and Monaco signed with Luxembourg in 2017 and 2021, respectively) in respect of granting regulatory immunity to potentially both personal and non-personal information (as if it were physical premises), including with regard to non-sovereign commercial digital databases.
Clause 17 of India’s current draft of the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022 (“DPDP”) permits digitized personal data to be stored overseas, albeit at locations that satisfy the government in terms of political and protectional adequacy. In that regard, a revised iteration of DPDP (or rules framed thereunder) may subsequently include the principle of reciprocity in a way that foreign state or private entities are able to use local cloud ecosystems through state-of-the-art data centers located inside an Indian SEZ, including for the purpose of storing copies of critical government or business information for continuity, backup, and/or recovery-related reasons – in case the main servers back home get compromised – including on account of sustained denial-of-service attacks, a natural disaster, full-scale military invasions, or any other national emergency.
Nevertheless, since DPDP deals exclusively with digitized personal data, if India’s data embassy policy envisages the storage of non-personal information only, it may need to rely on a different legislation – such as the proposed Digital India Act. Meanwhile, although certain Tier 3 and Tier 4 data centers with business continuity and disaster recovery functions are already operational at GIFT City, data embassies may require a new approach by leveraging diplomatic agreements bolstered by cloud technology solutions. Accordingly, India may want to develop a separate legal framework for the purpose of being perceived as a reliable host with respect to sensitive foreign databases.
With this background, this note examines how countries and companies (especially vulnerable and/or at-risk ones) that want and/or need digital continuity solutions may evaluate available options – given policy, legal, and logistical constraints in this regard.
In February, SEBI released a consultation paper on disclosures, ratings, and investing related to ESG, pursuant to which an assurance-driven reporting regime based on key ESG attributes (“BRSR Core”) may be introduced soon.
BRSR Core is intended to represent a focused subset of the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting (“BRSR”) framework, which SEBI had introduced in May 2021 as a voluntary disclosure regime in lieu of the erstwhile Business Responsibility Reporting (“BRR”) paradigm. The main motivation behind introducing the BRSR framework was to ensure quantitative, standardized disclosures on ESG-linked parameters. While until FY 21-22, the top 1,000 listed companies in India by market capitalization could make disclosures under this framework on a voluntary basis, such disclosures are compulsory from FY 22-23.
This article provides an overview of category-wise BRSR compliance requirements. Further, it highlights some of the benefits and opportunities, along with potential legal risks, associated with such disclosures. The article also discusses some of the concerns and innovations related to the BRSR Core framework, including in light of SEBI’s proposals with respect to adjusting intensity ratios for country-level purchasing power parity and extending disclosure requirements to corporate supply chains.
In the backdrop of India’s growth story as a major IT-ITes hub in the last two decades, the Indian data centres industry is now emerging as the next attractive opportunity for investors and developers. The demand for data centres in India is being driven by the need for data storage given the Government’s Digital India and data localization policies, increased data consumption and 5G roll-out which is expected to enable adoption of data intensive technologies such as internet-of-things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). The proliferation of data centres in India has also created growth opportunities in various sectors of the Indian economy, including real estate, manufacturing and renewable energy.
While the draft national data centre policy is yet to be implemented, various Indian states have adopted their respective state data centres policies to attract private investment in this capital and technology intensive sector. In this article, we compare the incentives offered under data centre policies adopted by certain Indian states which have received major investments in the data centre sector.
The global pivot on sustainable development has revitalized preferences among both occupiers and developers for certified green commercial buildings. Given emerging ESG trends, most MNCs looking to lease or set up offices in India are keen to occupy premises with green and/or sustainability ratings. This trend has created significant demand for commercial assets with energy-efficient ratings, which in turn has incentivized developers to upgrade and shift focus towards green buildings. Concomitantly, green financing may be on the rise, as domestic and offshore investors seek high-quality Grade A projects that are sustainable and ESG compliant. As part of their short-term ESG goals, listed developers may want to increase their green portfolio by the end of the decade, along with ramping up renewable energy deployment.
In this situation, it is useful to examine the cost of pursuing such green goals, given the existing housing demand in India in terms of both residential buildings and Grade A commercial/industrial assets. Emerging evidence suggests that green buildings are a higher-value, lower-risk asset than standard structures. Local developers are increasingly realizing that additional capital expenditure incurred upfront is likely to be offset by significant savings over the long term on operational costs.
The Energy Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2022 (“EC Amendment”) has included large residential buildings under its regulatory regime, along with enhancing the scope of the Energy Conservation Building Code (“ECBC”). Further, the EC Amendment has introduced the idea of sustainability, where a new building code related to energy conservation will provide norms for the use of renewable sources and green buildings. While the ECBC applies to a specified category of commercial buildings only, the new code will apply to office and residential buildings as well. Nevertheless, future digitalization may expand opportunities further. The diffusion of internet-connected devices in the residential and commercial sectors may allow added integration across demand and supply, such as by meeting India’s large-scale tri-generation requirements (cooling, heating, and power) through smart cities and district energy systems involving ‘cooling as a service’ (CaaS).
Recent studies find that a steady rise in temperature across India will significantly impact socioeconomic productivity and GDP growth. Importantly, heat-related stress produces corresponding cooling demands. In this regard, the World Bank recently identified opportunities for the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) to encourage private investment in key sectors, such as space cooling in buildings, cold chain and refrigeration, passenger transport air-conditioning, as well as refrigerants. Nevertheless, such investments may be constrained by the country’s international obligations, such as those in respect of HCFCs and HFCs. Besides, India’s climate mitigation strategy, including its thrust towards renewable energy and decarbonization, remains inadequate by itself. Emissions from short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) need to be addressed as well. Accordingly, strategic investments in innovative ventures, such as seaweed start-ups that focus on reducing agricultural methane, can be explored further. In addition, the waste and agricultural commodities sectors, along with their critical interface with technology, may be significantly scaled up in the next few years.
Although the objectives of the erstwhile restriction on “round tripping” were laudable, such restriction had an unintended chilling effect on legitimate transactions. The new overseas investment regime introduced in August 2022 eases such restriction to a large extent. However, certain interpretational issues remain.