The Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is listed for discussion in Rajya Sabha today.[i] The Bill aims to expeditiously resolve cases of debt recovery by making amendments to four laws, including the (i) Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993, and (ii) the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002. Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 The 1993 Act created Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTS) to adjudicated debt recovery cases. This was done to move cases out of civil courts, with the idea of reducing time taken for debt recovery, and for providing technical expertise. This was aimed at assisting banks and financial institutions in recovering outstanding debt from defaulters. Over the years, it has been observed that the DRTs do not comply with the stipulated time frame of resolving disputes within six months. This has resulted in delays in disposal, and a high pendency of cases before the DRTs. Between March 2013 and December 2015, the number of pending cases before the DRTs increased from 43,000 to 70,000. With an average disposal rate of 10,000 cases per year, it is estimated that these DRTs will take about six to seven years to clear the existing backlog of cases.[ii] Experts have also observed that the DRT officers, responsible for debt recovery, lack experience in dealing with such cases. Further, these officers are not adequately trained to adjudicate debt-related matters.[iii] The 2016 Bill proposes to increase the retirement age of Presiding Officers of DRTs, and allows for their reappointment. This will allow the existing DRT officers to serve for longer periods of time. However, such a move may have limited impact in expanding the pool of officers in the DRTs. The 2016 Bill also has a provision which allows Presiding Officers of tribunals, established under other laws, to head DRTs. Currently, there are various specialised tribunals functioning in the country, like the Securities Appellate Tribunal, the National Company Law Tribunal, and theNational Green Tribunal. It remains to be seen if the skills brought in by officers of these tribunals will mirror the specialisation required for adjudicating debt-related matters. Further, the 1993 Act provides that banks and financial institutions must file cases in those DRTs that have jurisdiction over the defendant’s area of residence or business. In addition, the Bill allows cases to be filed in DRTs having jurisdiction over the bank branch where the debt is due. The Bill also provides that certain procedures, such as presentation of claims by parties and issue of summons by DRTs, can now be undertaken in electronic form (such as filing them on the DRT website). Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002 The 2002 Act allows secured creditors (lenders whose loans are backed by a security) to take possession over a collateral security if the debtor defaults in repayment. This allows creditors to sell the collateral security and recover the outstanding debt without the intervention of a court or a tribunal. This takeover of collateral security is done with the assistance of the District Magistrate (DM), having jurisdiction over the security. Experts have noted that the absence of a time-limit for the DM to dispose such applications has resulted in delays.[iv] The 2016 Bill proposes to introduce a 30-day time limit within which the DM must pass an order for the takeover of a security. Under certain circumstances, this time-limit may be extended to 60 days. The 2002 Act also regulates the establishment and functioning of Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs). ARCs purchase Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) from banks at a discount. This allows banks to recover partial payment for an outstanding loan account, thereby helping them maintain cash flow and liquidity. The functioning of ARCs has been explained in Figure 1. It has been observed that the setting up of ARCs, along with the use out-of-court systems to take possession of the collateral security, has created an environment conducive to lending.[iii] However, a few concerns related to the functioning of ARCs have been expressed over the years. These concerns include a limited number of buyers and capital entering the ARC business, and high transaction costs involved in the transfer of assets in favour of these companies due to the levy of stamp duty.[iii] In this regard, the Bill proposes to exempt the payment of stamp duty on transfer of financial assets in favour of ARCs. This benefit will not be applicable if the asset has been transferred for purposes other than securitisation or reconstruction (such as for the ARCs own use or investment). Consequently, the Bill amends the Indian Stamp Act, 1899. The Bill also provides greater powers to the Reserve Bank of India to regulate ARCs. This includes the power to carry out audits and inspections either on its own, or through specialised agencies. With the passage of the Bankruptcy Code in May 2016, a complete overhaul of the debt recovery proceedings was envisaged. The Code allows creditors to collectively take action against a defaulting debtor, and complete this process within a period of 180 days. During the process, the creditors may choose to revive a company by changing the repayment schedule of outstanding loans, or decide to sell it off for recovering their dues. While the Bankruptcy Code provides for collective action of creditors, the proposed amendments to the SARFAESI and DRT Acts seek to streamline the processes of creditors individually taking action against the defaulting debtor. The impact of these changes on debt recovery scenario in the country, and the issue of rising NPAs will only become clear in due course of time. [i] Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Bill, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/media/Enforcement%20of%20Security/Enforcement%20of%20Security%20Bill,%202016.pdf. [ii] Unstarred Question No. 1570, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Finance, Answered on March 4, 2016. [iii] ‘A Hundred Small Steps’, Report of the Committee on Financial Sector Reforms, Planning Commission, September 2008, http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_fr/cfsr_all.pdf. [iv] Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, March 2013, http://finmin.nic.in/fslrc/fslrc_report_vol1.pdf.
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today. Last week, Lok Sabha passed the Code with changes recommended by the Joint Parliamentary Committee that examined the Code., We present answers to some of the frequently asked questions in relation to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016. Why do we need a new law? As of 2015, insolvency resolution in India took 4.3 years on an average. This is higher when compared to other countries such as United Kingdom (1 year) and United States of America (1.5 years). Figure 1 provides a comparison of the time to resolve insolvency for various countries. These delays are caused due to time taken to resolve cases in courts, and confusion due to a lack of clarity about the current bankruptcy framework. What does the current Code aim to do? The 2016 Code applies to companies and individuals. It provides for a time-bound process to resolve insolvency. When a default in repayment occurs, creditors gain control over debtor’s assets and must take decisions to resolve insolvency within a 180-day period. To ensure an uninterrupted resolution process, the Code also provides immunity to debtors from resolution claims of creditors during this period. The Code also consolidates provisions of the current legislative framework to form a common forum for debtors and creditors of all classes to resolve insolvency. Who facilitates the insolvency resolution under the Code? The Code creates various institutions to facilitate resolution of insolvency. These are as follows:
- Insolvency Professionals: A specialised cadre of licensed professionals is proposed to be created. These professionals will administer the resolution process, manage the assets of the debtor, and provide information for creditors to assist them in decision making.
- Insolvency Professional Agencies: The insolvency professionals will be registered with insolvency professional agencies. The agencies conduct examinations to certify the insolvency professionals and enforce a code of conduct for their performance.
- Information Utilities: Creditors will report financial information of the debt owed to them by the debtor. Such information will include records of debt, liabilities and defaults.
- Adjudicating authorities: The proceedings of the resolution process will be adjudicated by the National Companies Law Tribunal (NCLT), for companies; and the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT), for individuals. The duties of the authorities will include approval to initiate the resolution process, appoint the insolvency professional, and approve the final decision of creditors.
- Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board: The Board will regulate insolvency professionals, insolvency professional agencies and information utilities set up under the Code. The Board will consist of representatives of Reserve Bank of India, and the Ministries of Finance, Corporate Affairs and Law.
What is the procedure to resolve insolvency in the Code? The Code proposes the following steps to resolve insolvency:
- Initiation: When a default occurs, the resolution process may be initiated by the debtor or creditor. The insolvency professional administers the process. The professional provides financial information of the debtor from the information utilities to the creditor and manage the debtor’s assets. This process lasts for 180 days and any legal action against the debtor is prohibited during this period.
- Decision to resolve insolvency: A committee consisting of the financial creditors who lent money to the debtor will be formed by the insolvency professional. The creditors committee will take a decision regarding the future of the outstanding debt owed to them. They may choose to revive the debt owed to them by changing the repayment schedule, or sell (liquidate) the assets of the debtor to repay the debts owed to them. If a decision is not taken in 180 days, the debtor’s assets go into liquidation.
- Liquidation: If the debtor goes into liquidation, an insolvency professional administers the liquidation process. Proceeds from the sale of the debtor’s assets are distributed in the following order of precedence: i) insolvency resolution costs, including the remuneration to the insolvency professional, ii) secured creditors, whose loans are backed by collateral, dues to workers, other employees, iii) unsecured creditors, iv) dues to government, v) priority shareholders and vi) equity shareholders.
What are some issues in the Code that require consideration?
- The Bankruptcy Board (regulator) will regulate insolvency professional agencies (IPAs), which will further regulate insolvency professionals (IPs). The rationale behind multiple IPAs overseeing the functioning of their member IPs, instead of a single regulator is unclear. The presence of multiple IPAs operating simultaneously could enable competition in the sector. However, this may also lead to a conflict of interest between the regulatory and competitive goals of the IPAs. This structure of regulation varies from the current practice where the regulator directly regulates its registered professionals. For example, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (which regulates chartered accountants) is directly responsible for regulating its registered members.
- The Code provides an order of priority to distribute assets during liquidation. It is unclear why: (i) secured creditors will receive their entire outstanding amount, rather than up to their collateral value, (ii) unsecured creditors have priority over trade creditors, and (iii) government dues will be repaid after unsecured creditors.
- The smooth functioning of the Code depends on the functioning of new entities such as insolvency professionals, insolvency professional agencies and information utilities. These entities will have to evolve over time for the proper functioning of the system. In addition, the NCLT, which will adjudicate corporate insolvency has not been constituted as yet, and the DRTs are overloaded with pending cases.
- The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/media/Bankruptcy/Bankruptcy%20Code%20as%20passed%20by%20LS.pdf.
- Report of the Joint Committee on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2015, April 28, 2016, http://22.214.171.124/lsscommittee/Joint%20Committee%20on%20Insolvency%20and%20Bankruptcy%20Code,%202015/16_Joint_Committee_o n_Insolvency_and_Bankruptcy_Code_2015_1.pdf
A version of this blog appeared in the Business Standard on May 7, 2016.