The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 was enacted to provide a time-bound process to resolve insolvency among companies and individuals. Insolvency is a situation where an individual or company is unable to repay their outstanding debt. Last month, the government promulgated the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 amending certain provisions of the Code. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Bill, 2018, which replaces this Ordinance, was introduced in Lok Sabha last week and is scheduled to be passed in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament. In light of this, we discuss some of the changes being proposed under the Bill and possible implications of such changes.
What was the need for amending the Code?
In November 2017, the Insolvency Law Committee was set up to review the Code, identify issues in its implementation, and suggest changes. The Committee submitted its report in March 2018. It made several recommendations, such as treating allottees under a real estate project as financial creditors, exempting micro, small and medium enterprises from certain provisions of the Code, reducing voting thresholds of the committee of creditors, among others. Subsequently, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, was promulgated on June 6, 2018, incorporating these recommendations.
What amendments have been proposed regarding real estate allottees?
The Code defines a financial creditor as anyone who has extended any kind of loan or financial credit to the debtor. The Bill clarifies that an allottee under a real estate project (a buyer of an under-construction residential or commercial property) will be considered as a financial creditor. These allottees will be represented on the committee of creditors by an authorised representative who will vote on their behalf.
This committee is responsible for taking key decisions related to the resolution process, such as appointing the resolution professional, and approving the resolution plan to be submitted to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). It also implies that real estate allottees can initiate a corporate insolvency resolution process against the debtor.
Can the amount raised by real estate allottees be considered as financial debt?
The Insolvency Law Committee (2017) had noted that the amount paid by allottees under a real estate project is a means of raising finance for the project, and hence would classify as financial debt. It had also noted that, in certain cases, allottees provide more money towards a real estate project than banks. The Bill provides that the amount raised from allottees during the sale of a real estate project would have the commercial effect of a borrowing, and therefore be considered as a financial debt for the real estate company (or the debtor).
However, it may be argued that the money raised from allottees under a real estate project is an advance payment for a future asset (or the property allotted to them). It is not an explicit loan given to the developer against receipt of interest, or similar consideration for the time value of money, and therefore may not qualify as financial debt.
Do the amendments affect the priority of real estate allottees in the waterfall under liquidation?
During the corporate insolvency resolution process, a committee of creditors (comprising of all financial creditors) may choose to: (i) resolve the debtor company, or (ii) liquidate (sell) the debtor’s assets to repay loans. If no decision is made by the committee within the prescribed time period, the debtor’s assets are liquidated to repay the debt. In case of liquidation, secured creditors are paid first after payment of the resolution fees and other resolution costs. Secured creditors are those whose loans are backed by collateral (security). This is followed by payment of employee wages, and then payment to all the unsecured creditors.
While the Bill classifies allottees as financial creditors, it does not specify whether they would be treated as secured or unsecured creditors. Therefore, their position in the order of priority is not clear.
What amendments have been proposed regarding Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)?
Earlier this year, the Code was amended to prohibit certain persons from submitting a resolution plan. These include: (i) wilful defaulters, (ii) promoters or management of the company if it has an outstanding non-performing asset (NPA) for over a year, and (iii) disqualified directors, among others. Further, it barred the sale of property of a defaulter to such persons during liquidation. One of the concerns raised was that in case of some MSMEs, the promoter may be the only person submitting a plan to revive the company. In such cases, the defaulting firm will go into liquidation even if there could have been a viable resolution plan.
The Bill amends the criteria which prohibits certain persons from submitting a resolution plan. For example, the Code prohibits a person from being a resolution applicant if his account has been identified as a NPA for more than a year. The Bill provides that this criterion will not apply if such an applicant is a financial entity, and is not a related party to the debtor (with certain exceptions). Further, if the NPA was acquired under a resolution plan under this Code, then this criterion will not apply for a period of three years (instead of one). Secondly, the Code also bars a guarantor of a defaulter from being an applicant. The Bill specifies that such a bar will apply if such guarantee has been invoked by the creditor and remains unpaid.
In addition to amending these criteria, the Bill also states that the ineligibility criteria for resolution applicants regarding NPAs and guarantors will not be applicable to persons applying for resolution of MSMEs. The central government may, in public interest, modify or remove other provisions of the Code while applying them to MSMEs.
What are some of the other key changes being proposed?
The Bill also makes certain changes to the procedures under the Code. Under the Code, all decisions of the committee of creditors have to be taken by a 75% majority of the financial creditors. The Bill lowers this threshold to 51%. For certain key decisions, such as appointment of a resolution professional, approving the resolution plan, and making structural changes to the company, the voting threshold has been reduced from 75% to 66%.
The Bill also provides for withdrawal of a resolution application, after the resolution process has been initiated with the NCLT. Such withdrawal will have to be approved by a 90% vote of the committee of creditors.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.