Interim Dividends – Is the Confusion Clearing?

[The following guest post is contributed by Siddharth Raja
and Neeraj Vyas, who are Founding Partner and Associate respectively of
Samvad Partners. Views are personal, and comments are welcome]
The concept of ‘interim dividend’ was only introduced
into the Indian companies statute in 2000 — that was legislative recognition
of a move that had started to develop and gain acceptance within Indian
corporates, especially in the 1990s.  A move that essentially postulated
freedom to a Board of Directors (in contrast to the shareholders in general
meeting) to declare a dividend in the interregnum between two ‘regular’ (so to
speak, although the word is not used in the statute) dividend declarations which
typically take place at annual general meetings of shareholders,
year-on-year. 
The Companies (Amendment) Act of 2000, amending the
Companies Act, 1956 (the “1956 Act“), made it clear that the
Board of an Indian company may declare an ‘interim dividend’, which had to then
be segregated into a separate bank account for the only purpose of making the
payment of such ‘interim dividend’ — importantly, the terms under which such
an ‘interim dividend’ could be declared and paid was the same as applicable to dividends
itself.  As a result, one of the key conditions governing both ‘interim
dividend’ and ‘dividend’ under the 1956 Act was the need to declare and pay the
same only out of profits.
The Companies Act, 2013 (the “2013 Act“)
had further refined the construct of ‘interim dividend’, but the wording of the
provisions has left a lot to be desired — something the Report of the
Companies Law Committee of February 2016 notes as ‘disharmony’, while
suggesting ameliorative measures that are certainly welcome.  But, some of
the suggested changes or comments on clarifications to be made, especially in
the Companies (Declaration and Payment of Dividend) Rules, 2014 (the
Dividend Rules“), are yet to see the light of day,
currently, whether in draft or final form.
Dividends:    Section 123 of the 2013
Act (earlier — although entirely the same as — Section 205 of the 1956 Act)
deals with the declaration of dividends.  Section 123(1) inter
alia
 provides that dividend can only be declared or paid by a company
for any financial year out of profits for that year, or out of the profits of
any previous financial year(s), arrived at after providing for depreciation.
 
Furthermore, no dividend can be declared or paid by a company out of its
reserves other than free reserves (emphasis added), but, subject
in those cases, to the fulfilment of certain conditions.  In other words,
the Further Proviso to Section 123(1) provides that, in cases
of losses (or, what the provision calls, ‘absence of profits’) or the
inadequacy of profits in any financial year, the company in question may only
declare a dividend out of the accumulated profits earned by it in previous
year(s) and transferred by it to the reserves, subject to the procedure and
conditions laid down in the rules prescribed by the Central Government in this
regard (namely, Rule 3 of the Dividend Rules).
Interim Dividends: The concept
of ‘interim dividend’, as contrasted with that of a ‘dividend’ dealt with
above, is provided for in Section 123(3) of the 2013 Act — the Board of a
company may declare an ‘interim dividend’ during any financial year out of the
surplus in the profit and loss account and out of profits of the financial year
in which such interim dividend is sought to be declared.  
The only restriction statutorily provided on interim
dividends (in the Proviso to this Section 123(3)) is a ceiling
on the maximum rate of any such interim dividend in case the company in
question has incurred a loss during the current financial year up to the end of
the quarter immediately preceding the date of declaration of such interim
dividend — the ceiling in that case, is a rate no higher than the average
dividends declared by the company during the immediately preceding three
financial years.
Scope of Application of
the Dividend Rules; whether applicable to
Section 123(3):
Based on a combined and harmonious reading of the
provisions of the main statute itself and the Dividend Rules properly
constructed, the view, we think, is inescapable that Rule 3 of the
Dividend Rules does not apply to the concept of an ‘interim dividend’ as
in Section 123(3) of the 2013 Act.
The Dividend Rules, by its very terms, have been
promulgated in exercise of powers conferred on the Central Government under
Section 123(1) of the 2013 Act — its applicability is, therefore, confined to
that Section 123(1) relating to ‘dividends’ and, cannot and, indeed, does not
extend in its application to Section 123(3) of the 2013 Act dealing with
‘interim dividends’. 
This position is further borne out by the express
provisions of the Further Proviso to Section 123(1) of the
2013 Act that clearly references and provides for the Dividend Rules having
effect in the case of declarations of ‘dividends’ (as opposed to, and not as
regards, ‘interim dividends’), proposed to be paid out of accumulated profits
earned in previous years and transferred to reserves, but where there is
inadequacy or absence of such profits in the financial year of such proposed
dividend (note, not ‘interim dividend’) declaration.  
Moreover, Rule 3 of the Dividend Rules provides for the procedures and
conditions to be followed when dividends are to be paid out of the free
reserves
 (emphasis added), whereas Section 123(3) of the 2013
Act (unlike the Dividend Rules, as delegated legislation, which is subject to
the principal statute) deals with the declaration of interim dividend (emphasis
added)
from out of the surplus in the profit and loss account, as well as
the profits of the company for that particular financial year in which such
interim dividend is sought to be declared.
Circumstances under whichinterim dividend
can be declared and paid:
Now, unfortunately, Section 123(3) of the 2013 Act is not happily worded
as regards the use of the word ‘and’ in the phrase ‘….declare interim dividend
during any financial year out of the surplus in the profit and loss
account AND out of profits of the financial year in which such
interim dividend is sought to be declared’.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (2009-10; headed by Mr.
Yashwant Sinha), in its 21st Report of August 2010 on the then Companies Bill,
2009 suggested the inclusion of what eventually became Section 123(3) of the
2013 Act — with one important drafting clarification relevant for our current
purposes, which, unfortunately, was garbled in the 2013 Act itself as brought
into force: the two criteria for the declaration of an interim dividend,
namely, (i) from out of the surplus in the profit and loss account, and
(ii) from out of profits of the financial year in which such interim
dividend is sought to be declared, the Standing Committee suggested should be
separate, i.e., by the use of the words ‘as well as’, which is not the same as
‘and’ in these circumstances.
Indeed, the Report of the Companies Law Committee of February 2016
appointed to further review and examine and suggest changes to the 2013 Act
notes that the use of this word ‘and’ is at “disharmony with the
provisions of sub-section 1(a), which provides for the declaration of dividend
out of the profits of the company for that financial year, OR [our
emphasis]
the profits of the company from any previous financial year(s)
(subject to deduction of depreciation and other conditions), OR BOTH
THE AMOUNTS 
[our emphasis].”
The Committee’s recommendation in this regard has been accepted in full
— such that the 2016 Amendment Bill to the 2013 Act that is currently pending
in Parliament, expressly provides an amendment in Sub-section 3 to Section 123
of the 2013 Act as follows (all emphasis supplied):
“The Board of Directors of a company may declare interim dividend
during any financial year or at any time during the period from closure of
financial year till the holding of the annual general meeting out of surplus in
the profit and loss account or out of profits of the financial
year for which such interim dividend is sought to be declared or out of
profits generated in the financial year till the quarter preceding the date of
declaration of the interim dividend
.”
The suggested elimination of the word “AND”, and its substitution
by “OR”, is welcome, as is the construct to declare interim dividends
out of profits in the ongoing financial year until the quarter preceding the
date of declaration of such interim dividend.
The Committee further “…felt that once Rule 3 is aligned with the
provisions of the Act, it would be clear that in case a company declares
dividend out of surplus i.e. accumulated credit balances of Profit and Loss
Account which has not been transferred to reserves, the provisions of the
[2013] Act and Rule 3 would not be applicable
(our emphasis)
The Committee recommended harmonization of Rule 3 of the
Companies (Declaration and Payment of Dividend) Rules, 2014 and Section 123 of
the [2013] Act to provide clarity on the issue”.
Clarity continues to be elusive on this aspect; but hopefully we may see
a change in the Dividend Rules soon.
In effect, therefore and until the 2013 Act and the related Rules are
modified as above, the current Section 123(3) (read with its Proviso)
is, in our view, to be interpreted as follows:
1)    In order to be able to declare an interim dividend it is
not necessary that BOTH criteria for the declaration of such an interim
dividend in Section 123(3) of the 2013 Act be present — in other words, a
company can validly declare an ‘interim dividend’ in terms of Section 123(3) if
it has a surplus in its profit and loss account; it can also (or in the words
of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, “as well
as”) declare validly such an ‘interim dividend’ out of the profits of
the financial year in which such interim dividend is sought to be declared.
2)    The only stipulation then on the declaration of such an
interim dividend is as regards the rate of such interim dividend — that rate
cannot be higher than the average dividends declared during the immediately
previous three financial years, if the company has incurred a loss during the
current financial year up to the end of the quarter immediately preceding the
date of declaration of such interim dividend.  The Proviso is
so drafted as to cover the situation when interim dividends are declared during
the financial year in question; the only caveat being that that rate of interim
dividend cannot exceed a certain stipulated threshold if there are losses up to
the previous quarter, thereby implying the ability of a company to declare such
interim dividends during any quarter.
This leads to two probable situations: 
Firstly, situations wherein the company has
surplus in its profit and loss account and also has profits in the said
financial year.  In such cases, the Proviso does not
apply and the board of directors can declare any interim dividend.  The
only issue that remains to be touched upon here is the quantum of any such
dividend — the statute by the use of the words “out of” or
“from” profits or free reserves (as the case may be) clearly prevents
any excessive dividends of either type that are not matched by the amounts of
such profits or free reserves.
Secondly, situations wherein
the company has incurred losses during the current financial year up to the end
of the quarter immediately preceding the date of declaration of the interim
dividend (or even for the full year), but has had a surplus in the profit and
loss account during the quarter in question.  In such cases, as per
the Proviso, the rate at which dividend is declared cannot be
higher than the average dividends declared by the company during the preceding
three financial years.  But, that position does not invalidate the interim
dividend declaration. 

Siddharth Raja & Neeraj Vyas

About the author

Umakanth Varottil

Umakanth Varottil is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. He specializes in corporate law and governance, mergers and acquisitions and cross-border investments. Prior to his foray into academia, Umakanth was a partner at a pre-eminent law firm in India.

3 comments

  • Sir in my views the rule 3 is applicable only to dividend stated in Section 123(1) and hence the provisions are not applicable to interim dividend.

    Rule 3(1) states that a company shall not consider its average rate of dividend in the preceding 3 financial years, however the provisions specifically states that the sub rule shall not applicable if the company has not declared dividend in each of the 3 financial years.Were as section 123(3) says only average rate of dividend declared during the preceding 3 years. Does that implies that a company cannot declare interim dividend if it has not declared any dividend yet.

  • If Co.has incurred losses in last quarter and think at the end of financial year Co will not have profit for absorption of depreciation. So can Co. go for interim dividend without violating sec123(2).

  • Supposing a company has a huge balance in its P&L surplus, which has accumulated over a period of time but the profits are meagre. Does it mean that the entire balance in P&L surplus can be declared as interim dividend.
    That seems to me out of place, since the Act has restrictions on payment of final dividend but very less restrictions on payment of interim dividend (considering the company is not loss making).

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