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Posts Tagged ‘insolvency and bankruptcy code’

Amendments to the IBC: Implications for real estate allottees

July 26th, 2018 No comments

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 was enacted to provide a time-bound process to resolve insolvency among companies and individuals.  Insolvency is a situation where an individual or company is unable to repay their outstanding debt.  Last month, the government promulgated the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 amending certain provisions of the Code.  The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Bill, 2018, which replaces this Ordinance, was introduced in Lok Sabha last week and is scheduled to be passed in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament.  In light of this, we discuss some of the changes being proposed under the Bill and possible implications of such changes.

What was the need for amending the Code?

In November 2017, the Insolvency Law Committee was set up to review the Code, identify issues in its implementation, and suggest changes.  The Committee submitted its report in March 2018.  It made several recommendations, such as treating allottees under a real estate project as financial creditors, exempting micro, small and medium enterprises from certain provisions of the Code, reducing voting thresholds of the committee of creditors, among others.  Subsequently, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, was promulgated on June 6, 2018, incorporating these recommendations.

What amendments have been proposed regarding real estate allottees?

The Code defines a financial creditor as anyone who has extended any kind of loan or financial credit to the debtor.  The Bill clarifies that an allottee under a real estate project (a buyer of an under-construction residential or commercial property) will be considered as a financial creditor.  These allottees will be represented on the committee of creditors by an authorised representative who will vote on their behalf.

This committee is responsible for taking key decisions related to the resolution process, such as appointing the resolution professional, and approving the resolution plan to be submitted to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).  It also implies that real estate allottees can initiate a corporate insolvency resolution process against the debtor.

Can the amount raised by real estate allottees be considered as financial debt?

The Insolvency Law Committee (2017) had noted that the amount paid by allottees under a real estate project is a means of raising finance for the project, and hence would classify as financial debt.  It had also noted that, in certain cases, allottees provide more money towards a real estate project than banks.  The Bill provides that the amount raised from allottees during the sale of a real estate project would have the commercial effect of a borrowing, and therefore be considered as a financial debt for the real estate company (or the debtor).

However, it may be argued that the money raised from allottees under a real estate project is an advance payment for a future asset (or the property allotted to them).  It is not an explicit loan given to the developer against receipt of interest, or similar consideration for the time value of money, and therefore may not qualify as financial debt.

Do the amendments affect the priority of real estate allottees in the waterfall under liquidation?

During the corporate insolvency resolution process, a committee of creditors (comprising of all financial creditors) may choose to: (i) resolve the debtor company, or (ii) liquidate (sell) the debtor’s assets to repay loans.  If no decision is made by the committee within the prescribed time period, the debtor’s assets are liquidated to repay the debt.  In case of liquidation, secured creditors are paid first after payment of the resolution fees and other resolution costs.  Secured creditors are those whose loans are backed by collateral (security).  This is followed by payment of employee wages, and then payment to all the unsecured creditors.

While the Bill classifies allottees as financial creditors, it does not specify whether they would be treated as secured or unsecured creditors.  Therefore, their position in the order of priority is not clear.

What amendments have been proposed regarding Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)?

Earlier this year, the Code was amended to prohibit certain persons from submitting a resolution plan.  These include: (i) wilful defaulters, (ii) promoters or management of the company if it has an outstanding non-performing asset (NPA) for over a year, and (iii) disqualified directors, among others.  Further, it barred the sale of property of a defaulter to such persons during liquidation.  One of the concerns raised was that in case of some MSMEs, the promoter may be the only person submitting a plan to revive the company.  In such cases, the defaulting firm will go into liquidation even if there could have been a viable resolution plan.

The Bill amends the criteria which prohibits certain persons from submitting a resolution plan.  For example, the Code prohibits a person from being a resolution applicant if his account has been identified as a NPA for more than a year.  The Bill provides that this criterion will not apply if such an applicant is a financial entity, and is not a related party to the debtor (with certain exceptions).  Further, if the NPA was acquired under a resolution plan under this Code, then this criterion will not apply for a period of three years (instead of one).  Secondly, the Code also bars a guarantor of a defaulter from being an applicant.  The Bill specifies that such a bar will apply if such guarantee has been invoked by the creditor and remains unpaid.

In addition to amending these criteria, the Bill also states that the ineligibility criteria for resolution applicants regarding NPAs and guarantors will not be applicable to persons applying for resolution of MSMEs.  The central government may, in public interest, modify or remove other provisions of the Code while applying them to MSMEs.

What are some of the other key changes being proposed?

The Bill also makes certain changes to the procedures under the Code.  Under the Code, all decisions of the committee of creditors have to be taken by a 75% majority of the financial creditors.  The Bill lowers this threshold to 51%.  For certain key decisions, such as appointment of a resolution professional, approving the resolution plan, and making structural changes to the company, the voting threshold has been reduced from 75% to 66%.

The Bill also provides for withdrawal of a resolution application, after the resolution process has been initiated with the NCLT.  Such withdrawal will have to be approved by a 90% vote of the committee of creditors.

Doing Business in India

November 1st, 2017 No comments

‘Ease of doing business’ refers to the regulatory environment in a country to set up and operate a business.  Every year, the World Bank compares the business environment in 190 countries in its Ease of Doing Business Report.  In its report released yesterday, India’s rank improved to 100 out of 190 countries in 2017, from its rank of 130 in the previous year.[1],[2]  In this context, we explain the parameters on which each country is ranked, what has led to India’s improvement in rankings, and some recommendations made by committees to further improve the business environment in the country.

What parameters is a country ranked on?

Table 1 (2)The ease of doing business rankings are based on a country’s performance on 10 parameters such as enforcing contracts and starting a business.  In India, these rankings are based on the business environment in Mumbai and Delhi.  A lower rank indicates better performance on that parameter, whereas a higher rank indicates worse performance on the indicator.  India’s ranking improved in six out of the 10 parameters over the previous year, while it remained the same or fell in the remaining four (see Table 1).

Note that these parameters are regulated by different agencies across the three tiers of government (i.e. central, state and municipal).  For example, for starting a business, registration and other clearances are granted by central ministries such as Finance and Corporate Affairs.  Electricity and water connections for a business are granted by the state electricity and water boards.  The municipal corporations grant building permits and various other no objection certificates to businesses.

What has led to an improvement in India’s ease of doing business rankings?

According to the 2017 report, India introduced changes in some of these parameters, which helped in improving its ranking.1  Some of these changes include:

  • Starting a business: Starting a business involves obtaining clearances, and conforming to various regulations under laws such as Companies Act, 2013.  The report noted that India merged the application procedure for getting a Permanent Account Number (PAN) and the Tax Account Number (TAN) for new businesses.  It also improved the online application system for getting a PAN and a TAN.
  • Getting credit and resolving insolvency: The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code passed in 2016 provides for a 180-day time-bound process to resolve insolvency.[3]  It also provides for the continuation of a debtor’s business during these proceedings.  The Code allows secured creditors to opt out of resolution proceedings, and specifies that a debtor will be immune against creditor claims during the 180-day insolvency resolution process.  Prior to the passage of the Code, it took 4.3 years in India to liquidate a business (as of 2015).
  • Paying taxes: The report notes that India made paying taxes easier by requiring that payments to the Employees Provident Fund are made electronically.[4]  Further, it introduced measures to ease compliance with corporate income tax.1,[5]
  • Trading across borders: Import border compliance at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Mumbai was reduced.  Export and Import costs were also reduced through increasing use of electronic and mobile platforms, among others.
  • Enforcing contracts: The introduction of the National Judicial Data Grid has made it possible to generate case management reports on local courts.[6]

What are some of the other recommendations to improve the business environment in India?

Over the last few years various committees, such as an Expert Committee constituted by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion and the Standing Committee of Commerce, have studied the the regulatory requirements for starting a business in India and the made recommendations on the ease of doing business.[7],[8],[9]  Some of the issues and recommendations made by these committees are discussed below.

Starting a business:  The Standing Committee observed that regulations and procedures for starting a business are time-consuming.8  The Committee observed that as a consequence, a large number of start-ups are moving out of India and setting base in countries like Singapore where such procedures are easier.  It emphasised on the need to streamline regulations to give businesses in India a boost.  Note that the government announced the ‘Start-up India Action Plan in January 2016.[10]  The 19-point plan identified steps to simplify the process for registering and operating start-ups. It also proposed to grant tax exemptions to these businesses.

The Committee had suggested that the procedures and time period for registration of companies should be reduced.  In addition, a unique business ID should be created to integrate all information related to a debtor.  This ID should be used as sole reference for the business.

Acquiring land, registering property:  Under the current legal framework there are delays in acquiring land and getting necessary permissions to use it.  These delays are on account of multiple reasons including the availability of suitable land and disputes related to land titles.  It has been noted that land titles in India are unclear due to various reasons including legacy of the zamindari system, gaps in the legal framework and poor administration of land records.[11]

The Standing Committee observed that the process of updating and digitising land records has been going on for three decades.  It recommended that this process should be completed at the earliest.  The digitised records would assist in removing ambiguity in land titles and help in its smooth transfer.  It also suggested that land ownership may be ascertained by integrating space technology and identification documents such as Aadhaar.  Note that as of September 2017, land records had been linked with Aadhaar in 4% of the villages across the country.[11]

Several states have taken steps to improve regulations related to land and transfer of property.8  These steps include integration of land records and land registration by Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, and the passage of a law to certify land titles in urban areas by Rajasthan.  The Committee also recommended creating a single window for registration of property, to reduce delays.8

Construction permits:  In India, obtaining construction permits involves multiple procedures and is time consuming.  The Standing Committee had observed that it took 33 procedures (such as getting no objection certificates from individual departments) over 192 days to obtain a construction permit in India.8  On the other hand, obtaining a similar permit in Singapore involved 10 procedures and took 26 days.

Taxation:  The Standing Committee had noted that the tax administration in India was complex, and arbitration proceedings were time-consuming.  It observed that the controversies on the Minimum Alternate Tax on capital gains and the tax disputes with companies like Vodafone and Shell had harmed India’s image on taxation matters.  Such policy uncertainty and tax disputes have made foreign companies hesitant to do business in India.8

The Committee observed that for ‘Make in India’ to succeed, there is a need for a fair, judicious and stable tax administration in the country.  Further, it suggested that to reduce harassment of tax payers, an electronic tax administration system should be created.8  Such a system would reduce human interface during dispute resolution.  Note that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced across the country from July 1, 2017.  The GST framework allows for electronic filling of tax returns, among other measures.[12]

Enforcing contracts:  Enforcing contracts requires the involvement of the judicial system.  The time taken to enforce contracts in India is long.  For instance, the Standing Committee noted that it took close to four years in India for enforcing contracts.  On the other hand, it took less than six months for contract enforcement in Singapore.  This may be due to various reasons including complex litigation procedures, confusion related to jurisdiction of courts and high existing pendency of cases.8

The Standing Committee recommended that an alternative dispute resolution mechanism and fast track courts should be set up to expedite disposal of contract enforcement cases.  It suggested that efforts should be made to limit adjournments to exceptional circumstances only.  It also recommended that certified practitioners should be created, to assist dispute resolution.8

[1] ‘Doing Business 2018’, World Bank, http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB2018-Full-Report.pdf.

[2] ‘Doing Business 2017’, World Bank, http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB17-Full-Report.pdf.

[3] Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-insolvency-and-bankruptcy-bill-2015-4100/.

[4] G.S.R. 436 (E), G.S.R. 437 (E) and G.S.R. 438 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Labour and Employment, May 4, 2017, http://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/Notifications%20for%20amendment%20under%20EPF%2C%20EPS%20and%20EDLI%20Schemes%20for%20e-Payment_0.pdf.

[5] Finance Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-finance-bill-2017-4681/; Memorandum explaining the provisions of the Finance Bill, 2017, http://unionbudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/memo/memo.pdf.

[6] National Judicial Data Grid, http://njdg.ecourts.gov.in/njdg_public/index.php.

[7] Report of the Expert Committee on Prior Permissions and Regulatory Mechanism, Department of Industrial Policy Promotion, February 27, 2016.

[8] ‘Ease of Doing Business’, 122nd Report of the Department Related Standing Committee on Commerce, December 21, 2015, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Commerce/122.pdf.

[9] Ease of Doing Business: An Enterprise of Survey of Indian States, NITI Aayog, August 28, 2017, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/EoDB_Single.pdf.

[10] Start Up India Action Plan, January 2016, http://www.startupindia.gov.in/pdffile.php?title=Startup%20India%20Action%20Plan&type=Action&q=Action%20Plan.pdf&content_type=Action&submenupoint=action.

[11] Land Records and Titles in India, September 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/analytical-reports/land-records-and-titles-in-india-4941/.

[12] The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-central-goods-and-services-tax-bill-2017-4697/.