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Independent Directors (ID) bring objectivity and an independent opinion to the decisions made by the directors of the company. IDs play a supervisory role and take into account the interests of shareholders, creditors, employees and other stakeholders in general. While IDs generally do not take part in the day-to-day functioning, their acumen should be such that they ask the right set of questions to ensure that the decisions made by the directors are in the best interest of the company, so that concentration of power or special influence can be adequately balanced and in the best interest of the company. IDs will have to take an active interest in the decision-making process not only in the meeting of the Board but also generally take steps to ensure that the interests of all stakeholders are protected.

Kumar Mangalam Birla committee report opines that “Independent Directors are directors who apart from receiving director’s remuneration do not have any other material pecuniary relationship or transaction with the company, its promoters, its management, or its subsidiary, which in the judgment of the Board may affect their independence of judgment”.

Appointment of IDs is mandatory to all public listed companies and unlisted public companies who have (i) share capital more than Rs. 10 crores (ii) turnover of more than Rs.100 crores (iii) total outstanding loans, debentures, deposits is more than Rs 50 crores. In case of private limited companies, where institutional investors or venture capital investors have investments, they usually opt for an independent director to be on the Board.

The Companies Act, 2013 entrusted the governance to the Board of Directors and the Audit Committee for detection and prevention of fraud. The directorship is a fiduciary position and each person on the Board are exposed to many liabilities, not only under Companies Act but under various other legislation. Considering the fact that the IDs being nonexecutives on Board, they themselves cannot play an effective role even though they have a full commitment to ethical practices. Therefore, the executive directors shall have to be proactive and transparent in decision making and it is expected that IDs are informed about all facts, activities, and ongoings, beyond a structured/mandatory sharing of financials and mandatory board meeting agenda items.

IDs once appointed shall be equally responsible for wrongdoings in the Company. Therefore, before taking any directorship, the IDs may pose certain questions to the Company as provided herein below:

(i) Check on conflict of interest, whether such IDs has any pecuniary relationship with the Company directly or indirectly; (ii) The expectations of the Board from ID; (iii) Board Process on decision making, flow of information to its directors etc; (iv) Compliance status under various statutes as may be applicable to the company; (v) Risk and controls in relation to business and measures taken to mitigate such risks; (vi) Adaptability of the promoters towards suggestions of the Board. The expectation is that the executives shall run the show and non-executive board shall act as advisors; (vii) Check on whether the directors have the Directors and Officers Liability insurance policy.

A prima facie question that usually arises prior to taking an ID position is the liabilities. You can access our handbook on Directors here: Eligibility Criteria to be an Independent Director

Independent Director shall be a person:`

  • who is not an executive director or nominee director;
  • who shall possess appropriate skills, experience, and knowledge in one or more fields of finance, law, management, sales, marketing, administration, research, corporate governance, technical operations or other disciplines related to the company’s business.
  • who is or was not a promoter of the Company or its holding, subsidiary company or associate company and shall not be related to any of these persons;
  • who including his relatives has or had no pecuniary relationship with the company, its holding, subsidiary or associate company, or their promoters, or directors, in last two preceding financial years or during the current financial year;
  • who holds together with his relatives two percent. or more of the total voting power of the company;
  • who, neither himself nor any of his relatives—
    • holds or has held the position of a key managerial personnel or is or has been an employee of the company or its holding, subsidiary or associate company in any of the three financial years preceding the financial year;
    • is or has been an employee or proprietor or a partner, in any of the three financial years immediately preceding the financial year in which he is proposed to be appointed, to:
      • a firm of auditors or company secretaries in practice or cost auditors of the company or its holding, subsidiary or associate company; or
      • any legal or a consulting firm that has or had any transaction with the company, its holding, subsidiary or associate company amounting to ten percent. or more of the gross turnover of such firm;
  • holds together with his relatives two per cent. or more of the total voting power of the company; or
  • is a Chief Executive or director, by whatever name called, of any non-profit organization that receives twenty-five percent. or more of its receipts from the company, any of its promoters, directors or its holding, subsidiary or associate company or that holds two percent. or more of the total voting power of the company; or

Are they really Independent in their Judgements?

Most of the Companies in India are family run business, where a majority of the decisions are taken by the promoters (without consulting any other non-executive directors). Further, these promoters hold a majority of the shares in the company, thereby the interest of these promoters are influenced in every such decision. Though, under law the shareholders appoint the independent director, but the process of selection of the independent director, is the existing directors who nominate the independent candidates for the post of the independent non-executive director, that too in consultation with the promoters and the shareholders accepts the nomination on the basis of the recommendation of the Board.

So, the very appointment is dependent on the recommendation being provided by the promoters, it would be hard to explain that the IDs do in fact exercise complete independence.

Despite many fallouts in the real world on the transparency of board’s decisions in their presence, IDs are the only hope to uplift the discipline/ transparency, provided their independence is not being compromised and decisions are taken professionally. If they are no more independent then their appointment in a company will have limited benefit as IDs. (of course, their business acumen and domain expertise is always of value).

Even if one or two of them are independent of their judgment and takes a fair and prudent view, they may be compromised by the decision of the majority. So, in some sense, are the independent directors actually dependents? This is a very strong question and we believe that the way the legislation is proposing for appointment and remuneration of the independent directors, should be re-evaluated.

Author: Ashwin Bhat, is a Junior Partner at NovoJuris Legal


Ten Frequently Asked Questions on Exercising Employee Stock Options in Private Limited Companies

Employee Stock Option or ESOP is a mechanism through which companies provide options to their employees to purchase equity shares and become stakeholders in the companies, at a pre-determined price, and upon “Exercise”. To read more on the basics of ESOPs please see here.

Over the last couple of years, we have advised many companies on setting up and implementing ESOP and in the process, we have received queries from both employers and employees on exercise of ESOPs, right time for exercising, tax incidences, etc. In this post, we have attempted to put them in the form of answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

  1. Why are ESOPs granted?

Stock options could be granted for various reasons, ranging from motivating employees to contribute to Company’s growth, to incentivizing employees, rewarding for optimal performance, and also attracting talent pool. In most cases of early stage ventures, ESOPs are used effectively as a compensation packaging.

  1. Who can companies grant ESOPs to?

All employees of a company (including employees of parent and subsidiary entities) can be granted ESOPs, other than promoters, independent directors and directors (holding more than 10% of the outstanding equity shareholding in a company, either directly or indirectly). Depending on the structure of the ESOP scheme adopted by a company the board of directors of such company or the trustees of an ESOP trust of such company, have the ability to formulate and identify certain category of employees, like senior management, performance based, etc., who shall be eligible to obtain grants of ESOPs in such companies.

A registered ‘start-up’ (as defined under the Start-up India Action Plan) can further issue stock options to promoters and even directors holding more than 10% of the outstanding equity shareholding.[1]

Consultants/ advisors, however, cannot be granted employee stock options, under the current legal framework.

  1. What does “Exercise” mean?

Exercise is an event through which an employee or ESOP holder actually exercises the right to purchase equity shares of the company, at a pre-determined price (“Exercise Price”), upon completion of vesting of granted ESOPs, or any portion thereof, and upon payment of the Exercise Price. The moment ESOPs are Exercised, the concerned employee becomes a shareholder in the company.

  1. What is “Exercise Price”?

Exercise Price, as explained above, means the purchase price payable by an employee for each equity share that he/she is entitled to get, upon Exercise of vested ESOPs. The Exercise Price could be a fixed number or formula driven, and such number/formula is required to be captured in the ESOP scheme.

  1. What is “Exercise Period” and when can an employee Exercise ESOPs?

The time period within which an employee can Exercise vested ESOPs, is known as “Exercise Period”. Typically, the Exercise Period would be captured in a company’s ESOP scheme, or in stock option agreements executed with employees.

The Exercise Period could be any time, once ESOPs are vested. Some of the instances of how an Exercise Period may be structured, are as follows:-

  • It could be an annual/semi-annual window in a given financial year, within which all employees with vested ESOPs may Exercise (vested ESOPs only);
  • It could be linked with termination/resignation, and any time within the notice period an employee may Exercise vested ESOPs;
  • It could also be at a merger, entity buy over, change of control situation in a company (considering the cash outflow of the Exercise Price by employees at the time of Exercise and tax incidence as discussed in Point No. 6 below).

However, it is recommended that only one of the above-mentioned options are chosen in order to avoid operational confusion. The ESOP scheme of many companies also provide that if vested ESOPs are not Exercised within an immediately next Exercise window, especially in case of termination/resignation, the vested ESOPs shall also lapse.

  1. What are the applicable Tax incidences upon an employee Exercising ESOPs?[2]

In the hands of an employee:

  • At Exercise: The difference between Exercise Price and fair market value of the shares of a company, at the time of Exercise, is taxable as ‘perquisite’ [Ref: Section 17 (2) (vi) of the Income Tax Act, 1961] under the head of ‘Salary’. The exact amount of tax payable would depend upon the relevant tax slab under which an individual employee falls.

The employer/ company has to deduct TDS on the perquisite amount.  For instance, if the Exercise Price per ESOP is INR 10/- and the fair market value of each share in a company, at the time of Exercise, is INR 100/-, the difference amount, i.e. INR 90/- (INR 100/- less INR 10/-) shall be taxable as ‘perquisite’ and TDS shall also have to be done.

  • During Transfer: At the time of transfer (sale/purchase) of shares obtained upon Exercise of ESOPs, the difference between transfer price and acquisition cost is taxable as capital gains and depending upon the tenure of holding of such shares, the capital gains on the concerned employee could be long term or short-term.

It may be noted that the holding period for calculation of capital gains starts from the date of Exercise.

In the hands of companies:

Discount given to an employee, if any, on the fair market value, at the time of Exercise, i.e. the difference between the Exercise Price and the fair market value, is a permissible deductible business expenditure [Ref: Section 37(1) of the Income Tax Act, 1971] in the hands of a company.

  1. What is the process of Exercise?

Depending on the terms and provisions contained in the ESOP scheme of a company, the Exercise process could be the function of an employee holding vested ESOPs, giving notice to the company in this regard, within the Exercise Period. The Exercise Price needs to be paid in full to the company prior to any Exercise. Post such payment, the Company either issues fresh equity shares to the employee (in case of a notional pool) or transfers the shares to the employee (in case of a trust driven pool). Relevant statutory filings and compliances have to be done for issuance or transfer of shares by the company, as the case may be.

  1. What if an employee leaves before Exercising the vested ESOPs?

This is closely linked with the Exercise Period, as discussed in Point No. 5 above. As such, upon termination/resignation, vested ESOPs may be Exercised by an employee, during the relevant notice period, or held on for Exercising during a merger, entity buy over, change of control situation in a company. Many a times, the way vested ESOPs could be Exercised, is also made dependent upon whether such termination or resignation is for a good reason or a bad reason.

Unvested ESOPs, however, under all circumstances, get cancelled, upon a resignation/termination.

  1. Can a company grant loan to its employees for Exercising vested ESOPs?

Rule 16 of the Companies (Share Capital and Debenture) Rules, 2014 allows companies to grant loan to its employees for the Exercise of vested ESOPs. However, such loan has to be granted in compliance with applicable provisions of the same.

  1. Can a company put restrictions on ESOPs / shares granted under ESOP schemes?

ESOPs cannot be transferred, pledged, hypothecated, mortgaged or otherwise encumbered in any manner.  Shares granted to an employee post Exercise may be subjected to transfer restrictions, and other shareholding rights and obligations as may be applicable in the charter documents of any particular company.

In case of Exercise, prior to the occurrence of a merger, entity buy over, change of control like situation, promoters may also evaluate having some control over such ESOP shareholding, such that, if required, ESOP shares can also be sold, seamlessly, of course subject to the same terms and conditions (including price) as available to other shareholders in such a situation.

Authors: Ms Ayushi Singh (Associate) and Ms Sohini Mandal (Junior Partner)

[1] Notification by Ministry of Corporate Affairs, dated 19 July 2016 available at:

[2] We are not tax experts and the contents captured hereinabove is a mere statement of the provisions. Separate tax advice shall be taken in this regard.

Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace – VIDEO SERIES

Junior Partner Ms. Sohini Mandal appeared on the Prathibha Sastry Show talking about the Sexual Harrassment of  Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)  Act 2013 (POSH). She also talks about her experience in conducting Internal Complaints Committee procedures.

The Prathibha Sastry Show brings together Entrepreneurial, Adventurous and Innovative men and women in a quest to enable women to dwell deeper on the events that shape their life. An attempt to bring them into focus and enhance not just their life, but also that of those who will watch them share their stories.

“By Default” –  Consent By Default and Business Models

In 2003, Eric Johnson and Don Goldstein conducted a survey where the people were given two default choices, (i) people were informed that default was; not to be an organ donor (Opt-in) and (ii) other set of people were told that the default was; to be an organ donor (Opt-out). The results of this survey were surprising, in the first default choice where people had to opt-in to be an organ donor, only 42% of people opted-in or choose to become an organ donor. Whereas when people had to opt-out and make a decision that they do not want to be an organ donor, only 12% of people opted-out, 82 % of people choose to remain as organ donors.

All the major countries in European Union have laws and regulation relating to organ donation and it is exciting to see that countries with default opt-out option have an average of 97.55 % of organ donors. Below is a chart which clearly shows the difference between the numbers of organ donors in countries where default is opt-out and the numbers of organ donors in countries where default is opt-in.

Explicit Consent (opt-in, gold) and presumed consent (opt-out, blue)[1]

This study demonstrates one fact that presumed consent accompanied with an option of opting out works far more efficiently and sticks to people and develops adherent behaviour in people.

But the primary question that has to be answered here is that “why do default rules stick?”

Before moving ahead and answering this question let’s take another example to understand the realms applicability of default rules in modern day businesses.

Default rule setting has aided a company to capitalise subscription-based business model and rule the OTT entertainment segment all across the globe. Netflix in India, provides its services on a subscription-based model where a subscriber gets the first month service free of cost and the subscriber has to pay only from the second month. The FAQ section on the Netflix website says “Try us free for 1 month! If you enjoy your Netflix trial, do nothing and your membership will automatically continue for as long as you choose to remain a member.”

Folks in the industry call it as “Negative option marketing”, where people accept a free product are automatically enrolled as members of the subscription plan which carries a monthly fee.

Recently ‘Paytm’ a mobile pre-paid instrument in India introduced an option where a user can automate the process of respective bill payments. A user may now fix a date for bill payment, the Paytm wallet will by default pay the bill on that particular day until a person opts-out.

The point is default rules or settings make life easier and more efficient. There are so many use cases – Think of SaaS automated renewal, think of moving from free to paid services etc.

Default rule sticks because it is an efficient mechanism of making people do something or not to do something. Default rules tends to stick due to power of inertia, it exploits and thrives on basic human tendencies such as forgetfulness or perhaps procrastination or is it laziness. People generally like things which does not require much of an effort. Or is it perhaps because someone else has to take a decision? “the preferred approach is to select the default rule that reflects what most people would choose if they were adequately informed”.[2]

Default rules have existed even in law. For example, copyright ownership rests with the employer, in the employer-employee relationship, unless otherwise specifically agreed upon. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 has some default settings unless and until a person executes a Will.

With the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which becomes effective end May 2018 in European Union, the active consent, ie. Active opt-in from a data subject is required to use personally identifiable information. This sure has wide repercussions in various business models.

Have you thought of using the power of default setting in your business? Do you see use-cases where you can use the power of default setting in your business? It is also perhaps time to stop and think through the default settings you may have used earlier in your business.

Author: Manas Ingle, is an Associate with NovoJuris Legal.

[1] Eric Johnson and Don Goldstein, Science Mag, VOL 302, November 21, 2003. Available at

[2] N.Craig Smith . Smart Defaults: From Hidden persuaders to adaptive helpers.

Condonation of Delay Scheme 2018- A way out to restore the DINs of disqualified Directors


The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (the MCA) on 26 December 2016 notified the process of strike-off of the company from the register of Registrar of Companies (the RoC). The strike-off can be either suo-moto by RoC or on an application made by the eligible company.

During 2017, RoCs in India issued a Show Cause Notices (the SCN) to the companies who are in violation of section 248(1) of the Act (i.e. not carrying on any business or operation for a period of two years immediately preceding financial year) with a timeline of 30days from the date of SCN with an appropriate reply to the same, failing which would result in strike-off of the respective company and necessary action would be taken against the Directors. Until the end of December 2017, around 2.4 lakh companies were struck-off.

In addition to the SCN, in the month of September 2017, in terms of section 164(2) and 167 (1) (a) of the Act, the MCA had disqualified more than 3.09 lakh directors of companies which failed to submit annual filings for last 3 years (the Disqualified Directors). With this effect, the Disqualified Directors had to step-down from all those companies in which they were acting as a director and their Director Identification Number (DIN) were also deactivated to ensure that they do not file any subsequent forms with the RoC or incorporate any new company. Following the move, concerns were raised that many directors of genuine companies have also been disqualified. Besides, some individuals moved courts against their disqualification and has obtained interim stay orders.

Considering the requests from various stakeholders and in view of giving an opportunity to the Companies who has not filed its Annual Financial Statements and Annual Return for the period of 3 years from 2013-14 to 2015-16 (the Defaulting Companies), to file all pending annual filings of the Defaulting Companies, the MCA vide its circular no. 16/2017 has notified Condonation of Delay Scheme, 2018 (the Scheme) effective for a period between 1 January 2018 to 31 March 2018 providing a window to Defaulting Companies to file all the annual forms with the RoC.

The Condonation of Delay Scheme, 2018

The process for availing the benefits of the Scheme has been divided into paragraphs as below:

Eligible Companies: The benefits of the Scheme shall be available only for existing Defaulting Companies. The companies whose name is struck off by the RoC under section 248(5) of the Act are not eligible under this Scheme.

Effective Period: This shall be in force effectively from 1 January 2018 up to 31 March 2018. Given this, the Defaulting Companies shall have to comply with this within the said period.

Eligible Forms: The Defaulting Companies can file only the following forms which are due for filing as on 30 June 2017 under the Scheme:

  1. Form 20B or Form MGT 7: Form for filing of Annual Return of the company having share capital;
  2. Form 21A or Form MGT 7: Form for filing of Annual Return of the company not having share capital;
  3. Form 23AC, ACA, AOC-4- XBRL, non- XBRL, CFS: Form for filing of Balance Sheet/ Financial Statement and Profit and Loss Account;
  4. Form 66: Form for submission Compliance Certificate;
  5. Form 23B or Form ADT-1: Form for intimation of appointment of statutory auditor.


The jurisdictional RoC shall withdraw the prosecution(s) pending if any before the concerned Court(s) for all documents filed under the scheme. However, this scheme is without prejudice to action under section 167(2) of the Act or civil and criminal liabilities, if any, of such disqualified directors during the period they remained disqualified.Further, the DINs of Disqualified Directors continue to be active and their names shall be removed from the list of Disqualified Directors maintained by the MCA.

Step Plan to be followed:

  • Activation of Director Identification Number: Presently, the DINs of the Disqualified Directors are deactivated by the RoC. In terms of the Scheme, the DINs of these Directors shall be activated for the Effective Period to enable such Disqualified Directors to file all the pending Eligible Forms. As per the recent update of the MCA, the DINs shall be activated on or before 12 January 2018.
  • Filing of pending Eligible Forms: TheDefaulting Companies shall file pending Eligible Forms with the RoC within the Effective Period by paying prescribed statutory fees for each of the Eligible Forms under the Act.
  • Filing of Form e-CODS: Upon completion of the filing of Eligible Forms, the Defaulting Companies shall have to make condonation application in form e-CODS by paying the statutory fee of INR 30,000.

Effect Non-Filing of Eligible Forms under the Scheme: TheDefaulting Companies which doesn’t file the necessary forms as prescribed under the Scheme, shall continue to be in default under the respective provisions of the Act and the DINs of the Disqualified Directors associated with these companies shall be deactivated and appropriate actions would be taken against these directors.

The position of Struck-Off Companies:

In terms of the Scheme, the struck-off companies are not eligible to avail the benefits, the option available now is to make an application to National Company Law Tribunal (the NCLT) to obtain the approval to restore the company, make non-compliance good (all pending annual filing forms to be filed). Post-filing these forms, the DINs of Disqualified Directors continue to be active and their names shall be removed from the list of Disqualified Directors maintained by the MCA.


While there is a big relief for the Disqualified Directors, the Scheme continues to exclude the directors of the struck-off companies. These struck-off companies shall have to follow a lengthier and time-consuming process of NCLT approval to restore the companies. Further, there is no clarification to those Disqualified Directors of the struck-off companies who do not wish to continue the business or alternate mechanism to restore the DINs of the Disqualified Directors without restoring the struck-off companies. Given this, the question that still persists is, merely to file these forms, should you restore the company à file the pending annual forms(most likely NIL figures, as there wouldn’t be any transactions for these years)àshut down the company.

Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code- Protection FROM Creditor or Protection FOR Creditor


The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (“Code”) was notified effective 28 May 2016 with an aim amongst many others, to complete insolvency resolution process in time bound manner, to revive the entity and to ensure/safeguard the value of creditors (specifically unsecured creditors) and to protect the entity itself from coercive action of creditors (with an introduction of moratorium period). This legislation is very much needed, along with the rigour that it propounds.

The Code gives powers to creditors (both operational creditor & financial creditor) to drag the corporate debtor to the National Company Law Tribunal (the Adjudicating Authority) for insolvency resolution process in cases of default of payment. However, in the absence of specific opportunity to the corporate debtor to address the very reason for such default, the intent of the Code appears to below-sided towards creditors.

Should the corporate debtors be given an opportunity to be heard?

Position of Corporate Debtor under the Code

The existing procedure under the Code in case of operational creditor being an applicant involve a notice of dispute being issued against the corporate debtor, following which a time period for response is given to the corporate debtor to prove the existence of a dispute. After the mandated time period of 10 days has been exhausted, the operational creditor files an application. Following the filing of an application, there is a limited period of 14 days, following which the same has to be admitted by the NCLT.In case of financial creditor being an applicant to the insolvency process, an application would be made to Adjudicating Authority and a copy of such application would be sent to the corporate debtor.

Upon application being accepted by the Adjudicating Authority, there is a time period of 30 days within which the insolvency resolution professional is appointed by the creditors to put together all the relevant material in this regard and call for a meeting of various creditors.

The insolvency resolution professional (IRP)  is the individual who is proposed by the resolution applicant (i.e. creditor) and appointed by the Adjudicating Authority. A corporate debtor does not and cannot have any role in such appointment. IRP works to protect the interest of creditors and provides for a revival plan to protect the interest of the creditors.

Upon IRP being appointed, the IRP takes charge of the running of the business. The corporate debtor cannot make any management decisions.The resolution plan is then placed before the committee of creditors, and if more than 75 percent of the creditors approve, then the plan is approved. If not approved, the company goes into liquidation.

It may be noted that once an application is filed by the creditor, the Code rides excessively on the word of the corporate creditor.While there are few judicial precedents in which the Court has ruled that the Adjudicating Authority has to adhere to the principle of natural justice while deciding applications, the point of emphasis remains that the Code by itself does not provide any recourse for the corporate debtor to raise the grievance. It is for the Adjudicatory Authority to make ways for the corporate debtor to represent himself. Moreover, there is no structured procedure laid down for a fair hearing to be given to the corporate debtor.

Possible Remedies for safeguarding the rights of the corporate debtors against the frivolous threats of the creditors.

A corporate debtor who has intimate knowledge of the business, technical and professional experience of running the business should also be heard in appointing an IRP. An IRP who is not experienced in running a particular business or does not have the intimate knowledge required of the industry may cause damage, which perhaps can be evaluated prior to appointing the IRP.

Considering principles of natural justice, a right must be provided to the corporate debtor to be heard and present its side of the facts. It would be essential to have a provision in the Code to provide that opportunity to the debtor. With the rise of frivolous threats from many stakeholders a business has – employees, small value (amount) vendors, it helps in stopping frivolous threats.

Author: Ashwin Bhat