BRICS economies that showed immense promise began to face slower growth. This
was also influenced by developments elsewhere (including the crisis in Europe).
India was affected by the same phenomenon.
situation was also marred by several policy-related issues that continued to
remain for nearly two-thirds of the year. This includes the “policy paralysis”
that afflicted Government decision-making for most of the year. More so, the
Government’s harsh reaction to Supreme Court’s Vodafone judgment and the
introduction of the general anti-avoidance rules (GAAR) as also the fallout of
the 2G scam lowered the buoyancy of the economy and the capital markets.
the last quarter of 2012, the Government stepped in to take some corrective
measures. Its bold moves to reintroduce foreign direct investment (FDI) in the
multi brand retail sector, to postpone the introduction of GAAR, and to
introduce reforms in company law and banking legislation have spurred some
interest in the economy. While these measures have introduced some element of
optimism as we usher in 2013, it would be too much to expect big bang reforms
in that year. Given that the next general elections are due in 2014, one can
expect next generation reforms to occur only after that. The hope is that a
steady course is maintained until then with no adverse policy decisions.
recapitulate some of the key developments of the year in the business law
sphere, and ponder over what lies in store for the year ahead.
the significant events of the year is the approval
of the Companies Bill, 2011 by the Lok Sabha. This brings company law reforms,
which have been pending for over a decade now, closer to reality. The Bill
requires the approval of the Rajya Sabha and the assent of the President before
it can become law, and these are expected to occur early next year.
Surprisingly, the sticking point on the Bill for most of this year was the
provision on corporate social responsibility (CSR). While the Parliamentary
Standing Committee on Finance kept insisting
on mandatory CSR spending, the final
compromise reflects a “comply or explain” approach. When the company law
reforms are implemented (next year), it will represent a sea change in the way
companies operate, and both companies and their advisors will have to come to
terms with a new regime and adapt themselves towards that.
governance perspective, the year has not seen wide ranging reforms. However,
one aspect that stands out is the move towards greater participation on the
part of the shareholders. SEBI has made e-voting
mandatory for top listed companies. Apart from governmental effort, the
market has adapted itself towards greater shareholder activism through
involvement of proxy advisory firms and even activist hedge funds adopting a
combative approach towards some Indian companies, all of which are sought to be
documented in this working paper.
Government had proposed FDI in the multi brand retail sector in 2011 and had to
immediately withdraw it, the sentiment for foreign investment was not so
positive going into 2012. The initial months also witnessed policy paralysis
that resulted in substantial outflow of foreign investment in the country.
However, the big bang reforms witnessed towards the end of the year brings some
economic cheer. The Government reintroduced
changes that allow FDI in the multi brand sector, and also eased the
conditions for FDI in the single brand retail sector. The FDI reforms were made
effective through executive action and also put to vote in Parliament where
assent was received.
changes, the introduction of a new
route for foreign investment in the form of the qualified foreign investor
(QFI) scheme is noteworthy. This permits foreign individuals and corporations
to invest in a portfolio of Indian stocks without specific registration.
Despite the fanfare with which this scheme was introduced, it is yet to make
any significant impact and fund flows are still very thin.
witnessed enormous activity in 2012, most of which has come in the form of
enforcement initiatives by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)
and somewhat less so in the form of legislative/regulatory initiatives.
in India have had a lackluster year, with very few primary offerings to speak
of. Globally, however, the Facebook IPO stirred the markets but with some
different outcomes in the end. Not only has it been difficult since for the
company’s stock price to be sustained at IPO levels, but it also resulted in
regulatory actions against some of Facebook’s investment bankers for selective
release of information during the IPO process.
SEBI’s legislative initiatives that are noteworthy include its norms on alternative
investment funds and those on consent
order norms (which have substantially tightened the scope and process).
SEBI has also been insistent on ensuring that listed companies comply with the
minimum public float norms by 2013, and has prescribed additional methods for
achieving the same, including offer
for sale through the stock exchange, and the institutional
enforcement side, however, that SEBI has had an extremely busy year. It
returned from the Supreme Court with resounding success in the Sahara
case. Disappointingly, however, the saga continues with disputes between
SEBI and the Sahara group regarding the submission of documents and return of
monies to investors going back and forth between various fora including the
Supreme Court and the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT). Any meaningful
conclusion can be expected only next year.
securities frauds has been met with mixed success. Several appeals on matters
such as insider trading and front running have been decided by SAT during the
year, with a few of them in favour of SEBI and many against it. Noteworthy
among them include the insider trading cases involving the Jaypee
Group, a director
of Ranbaxy Laboratories and Rasi
Electrodes Limited. SAT’s decisions
involving front running and the SEBI adjudicating officer’s response
leave the matter wide open, with some action possible in the next year to
resolve issues. Contrast this with the successful prosecution, conviction
of Rajat Gupta (and earlier of Raj Rajaratnam) in the US, which has triggered a
on whether that is likely to mount severe pressure on SEBI’s enforcement
mechanism and resources on cases involving securities frauds.
every reason to expect SEBI’s enforcement push to continue into next year,
there is at least one pending issue where SEBI’s legislative or regulatory
intervention is overdue and is remaining on the industry’s wish list. That
pertains to the open question regarding the enforceability
of put and call options. While there was some clarity from the Bombay High
Court in the MCX
case, that matter was settled before the Supreme Court leaving the question
of law open. It is hoped that SEBI will clarify the position in the new year.
to be a bit of a lackluster year for M&A. While there were indeed a handful
of mega deals, the overall level of activity was nowhere near the pre-crisis
levels. Inbound deals appear to be more prominent than outbound deals. Part of
the drop in activity may also be attributable to the fear psychosis created by
the post-Vodafone events in the form of budget announcements and GAAR. The
M&A sphere has been dogged by tax uncertainties, which are enumerated in
the next section below.
no significant legislative developments in this area to speak of. The SEBI
Takeover Regulations were overhauled in the previous year, and are only yet being
fully tested. Given the enhanced threshold of 25% for mandatory public offers,
there is more room for investors to acquire stakes in listed companies without
triggering such offers.
significant for the complete acceptance of competition law implications as an
integral part of M&A deal making. The Competition Commission of India (CCI)
has made its presence strongly felt in a positive way. The initial resistance
from industry towards merger control regulations due to possible impediments
and delays from CCI has given way to a more optimistic outlook given the recent
track record of the CCI clearing proposals at such regulatory speeds hitherto
unknown. Since its existence, the CCI has already handled over
100 proposals in the M&A sphere. There is a sense that all the cases
before the CCI thus far have been fairly straightforward, and the CCI would be
fully tested when more complex situations begins to emerge. Nevertheless, it
has been a good start.
pertaining to M&A transactions caused a major upheaval this year that
affected not only M&A specifically but also the investor sentiment in the Indian
economy more generally. The corporate community welcomed the Supreme Court’s
decision in the Vodafone
case with much relief. But, that was only to be short-lived. The subsequent
response of the Government by introducing retrospective
amendments to the Income Tax Act during the budget
of 2012 caused substantial uncertainty on taxation of M&A transactions
that also resulted in a negative outlook for India among foreign investors. The
threat of imposing
GAAR further exacerbated the issue. However, more recent efforts have been
taken by the Government to assuage corporate concerns. The Shome committee was appointed
to examine these in detail, which provided its report that
recommended among other things that the scope of GAAR be restricted when
introduced. This, along with the deferral of GAAR, has brought some cheer to
of taxation of M&A transactions, believed to have been resolved by the
Vodafone case, has resurfaced in yet another form (coincidentally in a case
involving another transaction of Vodafone). This case involves a demerger
scheme proposed by Vodafone Essar Gujarat and several other companies. While
the scheme was approved by several High Courts, it was rejected
by a single judge of the Gujarat High Court due to objections from the tax
authorities. This decision was reversed
on appeal by a division bench of the Gujarat High Court, which ruled in
favour of Vodafone Essar. The tax authorities have now appealed to the Supreme
Court. Interestingly, the Supreme Court is not expected only to decide on this
specific issue, but the Government has sought for the entire issue of “tax
avoidance” to be dealt with
afresh by a larger bench of the Supreme Court. This is an area that
requires a close watch in the new year given the likelihood that an issue of
immense importance is likely to be dealt with de novo, and could be a game changer as such.
delay that plague the Indian court system have not dissipated. A recent
study finds that while the new caseload at the lower courts is decreasing,
at the higher courts it is increasing at a rapid pace, thereby creating a
bottleneck at the topic of the justice system. Interestingly, a number of cases
relating to matters such as company law, arbitration and taxation are being
admitted at the highest courts, including the Supreme Court. This research also
supports anecdotal evidence of several cases in these fields that have gone all
the way up the Supreme Court in a very short period of time, many of which have
been discussed in this very post.
approach to bypass the difficulties of the court system is to opt for
arbitration instead. However, in the past, that approach has encountered
difficulties due to the inability of parties to enforce arbitration awards
(particularly in international commercial arbitration) due to a string of
decisions of the Supreme Court, notably in the case of Bhatia International. However, those difficulties have been put to
rest (at least going forward) in the landmark
decision of Balco that was
pronounced by the Supreme Court this year. This will give the much needed
fillip to arbitration of commercial disputes, although the judgment also leaves
some difficult questions, such as its prospective overruling of Bhatia International and on the ability
to approach Indian courts for interim reliefs in international commercial
arbitration with a foreign venue.
SAT, an active adjudicator of securities law disputes arising from orders of
SEBI, finds itself in an odd situation at the end of the year without the
necessary quorum. A lot
has been written about this issue and a petition
has also been filed before the court, and it is hoped that immediate steps
will be taken to remedy the situation.
Overall, 2012 has been an
eventful year in the business law area in India. While some of the developments
may rather be forgotten, they provide valuable lessons for the future.