Hitherto India was lacking the legal and institutional machinery for dealing with debt defaults as per the global standards. The recovery proceedings by creditors, either through the Contract Act or through special laws such as the Recovery of Debts due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 and the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002, has not had desired outcomes. Similarly, action through the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act, 1985 (SICA) and the winding up provisions of the Companies Act, 1956 have neither been able to aid recovery for lenders nor restructuring of firms. Laws dealing with individual insolvency, the Presidency Towns Insolvency Act, 1909 and the Provincial Insolvency Act, 1920, were almost a century old. This has hampered the confidence of the lender and development of the credit markets in India. Resultantly, credit by banks is the largest component of the credit market in India and corporate bond market has not yet developed to the desired level.
The Government decided to embark on a fundamental and systemic reform which would address this problem, both commercially and judicially. The idea was to come up with a comprehensive solution, which would encompass borrowing by firms and by individuals. In recognition of the fact that major sub-components of lending are done by non-banks, in particular the corporate bond market which serve infrastructure projects, bankruptcy reforms needed to have a consistent treatment of default. While the systems of well-functioning advanced economies were studied, the design that was implemented for India reflects a careful judgment about what would work under India conditions.
The new law aims to consolidate the laws relating to insolvency of companies and limited liability entities (including limited liability partnerships and other entities with limited liability), unlimited liability partnerships and individuals, presently contained in a number of legislations, into a single legislation and provide for their reorganization and resolution in a time bound manner for maximization of value of their assets. Such consolidation will provide for a greater clarity in law and facilitate the application of consistent and coherent provisions to different stakeholders affected by business failure or inability to pay debt. This law will thus promote entrepreneurship, availability of credit and balance the interest of all stakeholders.
The vision of the new law is to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. It is true that some business ventures will always fail, but such failures will be handled rapidly and swiftly. Entrepreneurs and lenders will be able to move on, instead of being bogged down with decisions taken in the past. The Code empowers the operational creditors (workmen, suppliers etc.) also to initiate the insolvency resolution process upon non-payment of dues. In order to develop the credit market in India, in case of liquidation, financial debts owed to unsecured creditors have been kept above the Government’s dues in the list of priorities (waterfall).
Facilitating early resolution and exit is as important as facilitating investment. The essential idea of the new law is that when a corporate entity defaults on its debt, control shifts from the shareholders/promoters to a committee of creditors, who have 180 days (extendable by 90 days in deserving cases) to evaluate proposals from various players about resuscitating the company or taking it into liquidation. When decisions are taken in a time-bound manner, there is a greater chance that the corporate entity can be saved as a going concern, and the productive resources of the economy (labour and capital) can be put to the best use. This is in complete departure from SICA regime where there were delays leading to destruction of the value of the firm.
The Code separates commercial aspects of the insolvency proceedings from judicial aspects. While Insolvency Professionals (IPs) will deal with commercial aspects such as management of the affairs of the corporate debtor, facilitating formation of committee of creditors, organising their meetings, examination of the resolution plan, etc., judicial issues will be handled by proposed Adjudicating Authorities (National Company Law Tribunal / Debt Recovery Tribunal). One more important institution created under the Code is the ‘Information Utility’ which would store financial information and data and terms of lending in electronic databases. This would eliminate delays and disputes about facts when default does take place.
The Code also provides a fast track insolvency resolution process for corporates and LLPs. This will be an enabler for start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to complete the resolution process in 90 days (extendable to 45 days in deserving cases).
The Code also addresses the important issue relating to cross border insolvency by providing the enabling mechanism on the subject. The Government, at an appropriate time, will come out with a detailed framework for cross border insolvency.
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code is thus a comprehensive and systemic reform, which will give a quantum leap to the functioning of the credit market. It would take India from among relatively weak insolvency regimes to becoming one of the world’s best insolvency regimes. It lays the foundations for the development of the corporate bond market, which would finance the infrastructure projects of the future. The passing of this Code and implementation of the same will give a big boost to ease of doing business in India.