Borrow, Lend or Invest: Beware of Companies Act 2013
The Government of India has recently notified Companies Act, 2013 (“CA 2013”), which replaces the erstwhile Companies Act, 1956 (“CA 1956”). In our series of updates on the CA 2013 (“NDA CA 2013 Series”), we are analyzing the key changes and their major implications for stakeholders, by setting out the practical impact of the changes introduced by CA 2013. For a quick look at our analysis so far on the changes brought forth by the CA 2013, please refer to our previous hotlines in this series through this link.
In this hotline, we shall analyse the provisions relating to loans, borrowings and investments under the CA 2013.
Key Changes under the CA 2013
The provisions relating to loans and borrowings are set out in Chapter XII of the CA 2013 read with the Companies (Meetings of the Board and its Powers) Rules, 2014 (“Rules”). The key changes brought about are:
I. Restriction on investment through more than 2 (two) layers of investment subsidiaries
The CA 1956 did not impose any restrictions on companies which made investments through multiple layers of investment companies. However, Section 186 (1) of the CA 2013 restricts a company from making investment through more than 2 (two) layers of investment companies. An investment company has been defined to mean a company whose principal business is the acquisition of shares, debentures or other securities. These provisions, however, would not apply to (i) a company which acquires any other company in a country outside India, if such other company has investment subsidiaries beyond two layers as per the laws of such country; or (ii) a subsidiary company which has any investment subsidiary for meeting the requirements under any law.
An important concern that has arisen, is regarding the applicability of Section 186 (1) to existing investment structures set up under CA 1956. On plain reading of Section 186(1), it does not appear that the provision was intended to have retrospective operation. Since the CA 2013 does not provide any transitory provisions, it seems unlikely that this provision was intended to apply to existing structures.
II. Restriction on loans to directors and other persons: CA 2013 has made significant changes to the restrictions relating to provision of loan by a company to its directors. The key changes are as follows:
III. Loans and borrowings of the company
Inter corporate loans: Section 186 of the CA 2013 restricts a company from providing loans, giving any guarantee or security, or acquiring any securities of a body corporate, exceeding (i) 60% of its paid up share capital, free reserves and securities premium account or (i) 100% of its free reserves and securities premium account, whichever is more. However, a company may overcome such restrictions by passing a special resolution at a general meeting. These provisions are substantially the same as contained in Section 372A of the CA 1956. However, the following changes have been made in this regard:
The Rules however, prescribe that where loan or guarantee is given, or a security has been provided by a company to its wholly owned subsidiary, or a joint venture company, or an acquisition is made by a holding company, of the securities of its wholly owned subsidiary, the company need not pass a special resolution.
The CA 2013 does not indicate that the provisions of Section 186 are retrospective. Rule 13 (1) of the Rules, however, provides that a special resolution would have to be passed within 1 (one) year from the date of notification of these provisions. The true intent of Rule 13 (1) seems unclear, since public companies were already required to pass a special resolution before providing any loans in excess of the specified limits. It is possible to interpret Rule 13 (1) to mean that private companies would be required to pass a special resolution within a period of 1 (one) year if the loans advanced by them exceed the specified limits, even if such loan was taken prior to the enactment of CA 2013. A clarification from MCA would be required to clarify the true import of Rule 13 (1).
Deposits: The provisions relating to deposits are set out in Chapter V of the CA 2013 read with the Companies (Acceptance of Deposits by Companies) Rules, 2014 (“Deposits Rules”). CA 2013, like the CA 1956, provides that a public company can accept deposits from its members and other persons, while private companies can accept deposits only from its members (it should be noted that CA 1956 permitted a private company to accept deposits from members, directors or their relatives also). The definition of “deposit” as provided under the CA 2013 and the Rules specifically indicate that loans obtained by a company shall also be considered to be a deposit.
While the CA 1956 permitted public companies to accept deposits only in compliance with the Companies (Acceptance of Deposits) Rules, 1975, it did not include elaborate requirements for acceptance of deposits by private companies. However, the CA 2013 now states that a company may accept deposits from its members only on fulfillment of certain detailed requirements. Some of the requirements include issuance of a circular to the members of the company, filing of the circular with the Registrar of Companies (“RoC”), maintenance of a separate bank account (deposit repayment reserve account) etc. Every loan made by a member to the company shall be subject to the requirements set forth in Chapter V and the Deposit Rules. However, the Deposits Rules specifically exempt loans provided by directors of a company from the definition of “deposit”, if such director furnishes a declaration to the effect that the loan is not being given out of borrowed funds. For more details on the provisions relating to deposits under the CA 2013, please refer to our previous hotline through this link.
Restriction on companies on giving loans for purchase of its shares: The provisions in the CA 2013 restricting a public company from giving any financial assistance for purchase of its own shares are set out in Chapter IV of the CA 2013 and the Companies (“Share Capital and Debenture”) Rules, 2014 (“Debenture Rules”). The following key changes have been made in this regard:
Debentures: Provisions relating to debentures are set out in Chapter IV of the CA 2013 and the Debenture Rules. CA 2013 has introduced the following key changes to the provisions relating to debentures:
CA 1956 made the appointment of a debenture trustee mandatory in every public offer regardless of the number of persons to whom the offer was made. Under the CA 2013, appointment of debenture trustee is compulsory only when the prospectus is issued to more than 500 persons for subscription of debentures.
CA 2013 demonstrates the systemic move towards greater regulation of corporate transactions in India with a view to facilitate increased accountability. CA 2013 has introduced greater disclosure and compliance requirements in regulating access of capital by companies via loans and borrowings. The enhanced standards aim at protecting the rights of the all stakeholders, specifically by facilitating greater shareholder participation when companies obtain / provide loans. However, the move towards increased regulation of corporate loans and borrowings under CA 2013 shall significantly affect the ability of companies (specifically private companies) to access funds.
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