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Is Companies Act, 2013 actually Changing Fortunes?

By Anubha Yadav March 26, 2015

Is Companies Act, 2013 actually Changing Fortunes?

The Companies Act, 1956 had been in need of a substantial revamp for quite some time. The 1956 Act was passed in the first decade of free India and the business landscape has changed radically ever since. The opening of the Indian economy in the early 1990s posed newer and greater challenges for the corporate world. The Companies Act, 2013 seems to focus on the factors which have an impact on the governance of the company such as risk management, due diligence, etc. In several other areas also an attempt has been made to harmonise the law with international requirements. The new Act is a modern legislation which would enable growth and greater regulation of the corporate sector in India in a rapidly changing economic, commercial and technological environment, both nationally and globally. The new Act emphasises on two concepts i.e. democracy of shareholders and supremacy of shareholders. The new Act facilitates stricter enforcement of provisions, higher levels of transparency, business friendly corporate regulations, improved corporate governance[1] norms, e-management (electronic management), enhanced accountability on the part of key management and auditors, protection of interest of investors, employee friendliness, whistle blower protection[2], and corporate social responsibility[3].

One of the major objectives behind the new Act is Shareholders democracy. It has been considered as a mode of Corporate Governance which also increases independence of shareholders with a view to make the shareholders more knowledgeable and informed about their rights. As specified in the new Act[4], all major transactions such as inter-corporate investments, guarantees, securities, managerial remuneration, related party transactions etc., need approval from shareholders. The concept of class action suits has also been introduced under Section 245 which provides for shareholder rights or protection because it gives scope to consumer organizations to bring claims on behalf of large groups of consumers.

The concept of e-governance tends to reduce paper work and provide higher level of transparency and disclosure as the important and specified documents such as financial statements have to be available on the company’s website. It also tries to promote user friendly environment by making maintenance and inspection of the documents easier, simpler and faster. The concept of e-voting and video-conferencing in meetings facilitates the participation of the shareholders and directors from around the globe and these have been introduced under Sections 174 and 175 of the Companies Act, 2013 where the quorum for the meetings of board and passing of resolutions can be achieved through audio visual means. The new Act also lays emphasis on higher levels of transparency as well as enhanced accountability on the part of key management by introducing some new regulatory bodies such as National Company Law Tribunal under Section 408, National Financial Reporting Authority under Section 132, and Special Courts for speedy trial under Section 435.

The new Act seems to be employee friendly as it mandates the disclosure of difference of salaries of the Directors and the average employees. It also gives a provision for Auditor rotation after every 5 years which will increase efficiency of the company as it will bring the books of accounts of the company under fresh eyes which may help to point out issues which the previous Auditor may not have been able to identify. Also, the Auditors tend to lose their independence after a certain period of time if they keep working for the same company as they come under the dominance of the key managerial personnel.

Making it mandatory for the audit firms to rotate is one of the measures of improving the independence, objectivity, and professional scepticism of auditors.[5] The rotation of Auditors is now mandatory not just for listed companies but for all companies including private companies covered in class of companies mentioned in Rule 5 of Companies (Audit and Auditors) Rules, 2014.[6]

Every listed or any other company as prescribed under the Act has to mandatorily establish a vigil mechanism for staff and Directors for reporting genuine concerns under Section 177(9). This mechanism needs to be established to provide safeguards against victimization of the whistleblower, who may be an employee, Superior Officer or any Designated Officer.[7] It ensures anonymity of whistle blower. The details of this mechanism have to be disclosed on the company’s website as well as in the Board’s report.

Every company having a net worth of INR500 crores or more or a turnover of INR1000 crores or more or a net profit of INR5 crores or more in any financial year shall constitute a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Committee.[8] This CSR committee will formulate and recommend CSR activities to the Board. The Committee will recommend the amount to be incurred and monitor the CSR activities of the company. The company should comply with the policies of the committee and disclose the policy in the Board Report. In case of any failure, reasons have to be disclosed in the Report. The company should give preference to the local area where it operates, for spending the amount earmarked for CSR activities. This will help in improving the conditions of the weaker sections of society, in return for which the company will gain in terms of goodwill and long- term survival.

The new Act not only brings some new provisions but also strikes off some old provisions which have become obsolete with time. A large number of sections have not been notified yet and the other provisions are largely to be tested. A number of provisions still need some clarifications.

The new Act which has a number of new provisions faces a few challenges as well:

The term ‘shareholders democracy’ which sounds so fascinating is not that easy to attain. The challenge which the new Act faces is whether this objective of shareholders’ democracy is actually attainable? Also, it is not only the shareholders whose interests have to be safeguarded by the company; there are some other people also who are related to it. Any person directly or indirectly related to the company is referred to as ‘stakeholder’. Now the question that arises is will this democracy improve the conditions of non-shareholders i.e., ‘stakeholders’ such as employees, creditors, consumers, etc?

The Companies Act, 2013 has tried to change the rules of the game by providing provisions for mandatory approval from shareholders in certain cases by making them the major players, but these major players i.e., the shareholders are often ill-informed to take important decisions such as intercorporate investments, managerial remuneration, etc.

The new Act creates a doubt as to whether making CSR will actually benefit the society or will it just provide tax benefit to the companies. It can be seen now that these companies are the way for emergence of CSR consultants who help companies to make tax beneficial policies.

The companies Act has tried to change the fortunes of the companies by changing the rules for them. Now, the major questions that arise after the new Act are: Can an Act become redundant in six decades? Whether the 1956 Act has become totally obsolete? Whether the companies will be able to adapt to the new Act when it needs a plethora of clarifications? It can be hoped that the MCA and the concerned regulatory bodies will soon address such challenges to truly make the new Companies Act, an exemplary reformative step forward in empowering India Incorporated.[9]

[1] Corporate Governance: The system of rules, practices and processes by which a company is directed and controlled. Corporate governance essentially involves balancing the interests of the many stakeholders in a company - these include its shareholders, management, customers, suppliers, financiers, government and the community. Since corporate governance also provides the framework for attaining a company's objectives, it encompasses practically every sphere of management, from action plans and internal controls to performance measurement and corporate disclosure.

[2]Whistle blowing’ is when a worker reports suspected wrongdoing at work. Officially this is called ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’.

A worker can report things that aren’t right, are illegal or if anyone at work is neglecting their duties, including:

  • someone’s health and safety is in danger
  • damage to the environment
  • a criminal offence
  • the company isn’t obeying the law (like not having the right insurance)
  • covering up wrongdoing

[3] Corporate Social Responsibility is a management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders.

[4] Section-185: Loan to Directors

Section-186: Intercorporate Loans or Investments

Section-188 and Rule 16: Approval and Disclosure of Related Party Transactions

Section-197: Managerial Remuneration

All the above-mentioned provisions need shareholders’ approval

[5] As specified under Section 139(2) of the Companies Act, 2013

[6] http://www.caclubindia.com/articles/companies-act-2013-rotation-of-auditors-20274.asp#.VP2gdvmUeuA

[7] As per Section 177(10) of the Companies Act, 2013

[8] As provided under Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013

[9]http://www.grantthornton.in/assurance-tax-regulatory-framework/companies-act-2013implementation-challenges

TAG: the companies act , shareholders' rights , e-governance , e-voting , video-conferencing , managerial remuneration


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