Sunday, May 13, 2018
The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) has suggested to IBBI that there is a need to review the insolvency code regulations to ensure that they are not "misused or misinterpreted".
It also said that the resolution professional (RP) should be competent and independent so that there are no interruptions in the process which lead to delays in disposal of insolvency cases.
Besides, it has said the claims of operational creditors are neglected or ignored as the Committee of Creditors (CoC) has supremacy of the financial creditors (banks and financial institutions) who have control over the entire process.
Nobody is taking care of operational creditors' claim, said the NCLT Kolkata Bench in its order passed last week on the Binani Cement.
"It is time to recognise their voice also in the committee of creditors," it said, suggesting changes to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI).
In the 60-page order, the tribunal has also raised concern about the functioning of RPs, saying it has been receiving several pleas from stakeholders on issues such as transparency, arbitrariness and delays in the process.
"The adjudicating authority (NCLT) is facing too much interruption from various stakeholders. Till date we have never come across any frivolous application. All come with a genuine grievance. All challenge the independence of the resolution professional and lack of transparency, competency and arbitrariness in the matter of resolution process," said NCLT.
While citing Binani Cement case, the tribunal said: "In the case in hand, 12 applicants came forward ...for not following the process mandated under the code by the resolution process. The arbitrary way of dealing with the cases has always led to interruptions and also caused delay in disposal of cases."
According to NCLT, while there is a need for reforming the regulations of the insolvency code to ensure that it is not misused or misinterpreted, there can not be any question that independence and competency of RPs are essential for preserving the objective of the code in a transparent manner leaving no room for interruption from any corner.
The NCLT Bench of Member-Judicial Madan B Gosavi and Jinan K R said: "Hopefully, we believe that IBBI take note of all the above observations and do the needful review of the code and regulation."
Referring to the Binani Cement case, NCLT said here the RP is a CA by profession and he failed to take business decisions to run the corporate debtor on his own. He managed to run the company by appointing about 22 representatives, who are from his own partnership.
A resolution professional, like the RP in a case of this nature, needs some basic training for handling the resolution independently, efficiently and tackle the multiple questions from different stakeholders, said NCLT order, passed on May 2.
"Whenever a question arises, even if answerable by the RP independently or with advice from his advisors, he comes to adjudicating authority... He shifts that burden too to the adjudicating authority," the bench said.
Friday, December 23, 2016
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has issued a notification stating that pending proceedings under the Companies Act – with some exceptions – shall be transferred from the district and high courts to benches of the National Company Law Tribunal, with effect from December 15.
The Centre has taken this step in lieu of its power under Section 434(1)(c) of the Companies Act 2013, under which it was empowered to specify a date on which pending matters relating to arbitration, compromise agreements and reconstruction and winding up of companies would stand transferred to NCLT benches.
Under the Companies (Removal of Difficulties) Fourth Order of 2016, all cases related to winding up pending in high courts wherein petitions have not been served on the respondents, shall be transferred. Moreover, the notification also states that matters other than those relating to winding up, in which orders have been reserved by high courts, shall not be transferred.
The Companies (Transfer of Proceedings) Rules 2016 also states that those cases pending before high courts relating to voluntary winding up of companies shall not be transferred. The Rules also clarify that no fee would be payable for these transfers.
The government has also notified as many as eighteen provision of the 2013 Companies Act to come into force this week. These include variation of shareholder rights, reduction of share capital, compromises, arrangements and amalgamations.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Ashok Rajagopal, former director of defunct e-commerce firm AskMe who represented the majority investor Malaysia’s Astro on the board, got interim bail on a case filed by one of the online sellers My Limo Trading Company. The seller had accused AskMe of not paying the company the money the latter had collected on its behalf from buyers for goods sold on the e-commerce platform.
Though Rajagopal was not in charge of day-to-day affairs at AskMe, My Limo filed a case against him since he had represented Astro, the 98.5% stakeholder in Getit Infoservice Pvt Ltd, the company that ran AskMe. Rajagopal had sought anticipatory bail in this case in the court of district and sessions judge, Patiala House, New Delhi, after a first information report (FIR) was registered against him on complaints filed by My Limo Trading Company.
My Limo claims AskMe owes the former around Rs 1.5 crore.
The court has ordered not to take any coercive action against Rajagopal till 8 January, when the bail application would again be considered. Rajagopal and Astro spokesperson did not respond to queries regarding the legal proceedings.
The legal imbroglio involving Astro and AskMe is getting more complex with another FIR being registered against former AskMe board members on a case filed by My Limo’s affiliate company EBiz International seeking Rs 2.5 crore of defaulted payments.
AskMe suspended operations and top management led by CEO Sanjiv Gupta left the company in August when Astro stopped funding the company. A number of sellers are now filing cases against former directors while Gupta and the investor Malaysian conglomerate Astro are slugging it out at the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
NCLT has scheduled for hearing on the winding down petition moved by Astro along with several other petitions related to this matter for 12 December. Various parties including hundreds of online sellers and 4,000 unpaid employees of AskMe are awaiting the conclusion of the legal battle that was set off end-August following the collapse of talks regarding a management buyout.
On November 25 2016, the provisions of the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Repeal Act, 2003 (SICA Repealing Act) were notified with effect from 1 December 2016. This means that the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act 1985 stands repealed and consequently, the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) and the Appellate Authority for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (Appellate Authority) are dissolved. On the same day, Section 4(b) of the SICA Repealing Act, as substituted by the Eighth Schedule of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 (Code), was also notified with effect from 1 December 2016. It seems that as a corollary to these notifications and possibly to avoid creating a vacuum in the legal process, the Government of India decided to notify substantive parts of the Code relating to corporate insolvency resolution process on 30 November 2016, effective from 1 December 2016.
In our Ergo Newsflash of 25 November 2016 we had outlined that the Code was being notified in phases and that the provisions dealing with intermediaries had been notified into law on 27 November 2016. In May 2016, we had shared our thoughts on the broad contours of the Code with you. In addition to these, we provide below in FAQ format (i) a brief outline of what has been notified; and (ii) the implication of notifying the SICA Repealing Act on the Code.
The Code is here; long live the Code
What provisions of the Code have been notified?
Per the latest notification issued on 30 November 2016, the provisions relating to corporate insolvency have been notified into law, namely:
Sections 4 to 32: These deal with the substantive as well as procedural aspects of initiating a corporate insolvency resolution process, moratorium, constitution of the committee of creditors, and appointing of insolvency professionals, etc.;
Sections 60 to 77: These deal with offences and penalties for various actions;
Section 198: This allows the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) to condone any delay by the Board for reasons recorded in writing;
Section 231: The section bars the jurisdiction of civil courts in respect of any matter which the NCLT is empowered to pass orders on;
Sections 236 to 238: These sections (i) empower the special courts created under the Companies Act 2013 to try offences under the Code; (ii) empower the High Court to hear appeals and revisions from the special court; and (iii) make clear that the Code overrides all other laws in India;
Sections 239(2)(a) to (f): These sections empower the Central Government to make rules for various purposes; and
Sections 246 to 248 and 250 to 255: These sections amend various other laws and were notified prior to 1 December 2016.
In addition, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (Insolvency Resolution Process for Corporate Persons) Regulations 2016 were also notified with effect from 1 December 2016. These regulations are substantive guidelines which outline how a corporate insolvency resolution process can be triggered, what constitutes proof of claim, the governance of the committee of creditors, and the power of the insolvency professional, amongst other things.
Impact of the notification of the SICA Repealing Act
What does notifying the SICA Repealing Act and, inter alia, Part II (Chapter 1 and 2) of the Code (both effective from today, 1 December 2016) mean for pending cases under the erstwhile SICA?
Section 252 of the Code, notified on 1 November 2016, amended the SICA Repealing Act by substituting Section 4(b) therein with the Eighth Schedule of the Code. This was later followed by the notification on 25 November 2016 notifying the SICA Repealing Act itself with effect from 1 December 2016. The net effect of this is that BIFR and the Appellate Authority are, as of today functus officio (ie defunct). In terms of the Eighth Schedule of the Code, it means that any appeal preferred to the Appellate Authority or any reference made to the BIFR or any inquiry pending before the BIFR or any other authority or any proceeding of whatever nature pending before the Appellate Authority or the BIFR immediately before the commencement of the SICA Repealing Act stand abated. Any company in respect of which such an appeal or reference or inquiry stands abated has been given an option to make an application to the NCLT under the Code within 180 (One hundred and eighty) days from the commencement of the Code in accordance with the provisions therein. The provisions of the Code giving such an option have come into force from 1 December 2016.
What is the impact of the SICA Repealing Act on the orders passed either under Section 22 of SICA or scheme sanctioning order or any other order affecting the rights of the parties therein?
As stated above, the SICA Repealing Act read together with Section 252 of the Code, does state that all proceedings pending before the BIFR or Appellate Authority, shall stand abated with effect from 1 December 2016. However, the SICA Repealing Act also contains a "savings" section. The way this section is drafted, it intends to "save" any rights and obligations which have vested in a party under SICA upon its repeal. Given the substantive nature of the above orders passed under SICA, it may be argued by some that these orders are saved. Having said this, considering that the criteria for reference to NCLT and declaration of moratorium under the Code are substantively different from what was prescribed under SICA, it remains to be seen if such an interpretation is maintainable and merits a clarification from the Government to remove ambiguity.
Do the notified provisions of the Code apply to all companies (and not just industrial companies)? What is the test for "sickness" under the Code?
The Code is a significant change from the erstwhile SICA regime, particularly on this point. As a remedy, the Code is available for and against all companies and partnerships in India, but as of now only against companies and limited liability partnerships. Further, as a remedy it is available not just to scheduled commercial banks in India but to all financial creditors (ie lenders or beneficiaries of corporate guarantees) and operational creditors (ie trade creditors).
Furthermore, the balance sheet test under SICA for determination of "sickness" has been replaced with a low threshold cash flow test. Where a corporate debtor has committed a default of INR 100,000 (Indian Rupees One lakh) or more, an operational creditor or a financial creditor or corporate applicant itself may initiate a corporate insolvency resolution process.