Challenges in Insolvency Resolution Cases Involving Property Buyers

Property Buyers under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) rejoiced when they were expressly considered as financial creditors following the prevailing confusion. Hohfield’s jural matrix  correlates power with duty. Property buyers [I prefer using this term than ‘homebuyers’ because of newly inserted Explanation to section 5(8)] were empowered to have a say in the committee of creditors (CoC). Having attained the position of power, they, however,  must not forget their duty to ensure that corporate insolvency resolution process goes on smoothly. On the contrary, few cases that are in progress shows that they are acting as bullies  like a mob swayed by varied opinions without weighing the options that are in their interest. The side-stepped promoters are enjoying the split  between home owners associations of different projects and even sometimes energizing the rift, and happily watching the hassled insolvency professionals. 

The task of insolvency professionals in real-estate cases under IBC is more of a public relation exercise, in which they are unfortunately not trained, with property owners eating away the precious time at hand  by engaging them through constant phone calls, emails, personal visits with all sorts of threats – veiled and open. The insolvency professionals who were used to their cosy offices are suddenly feeling the heat and pressure of a different kind. The complaints against insolvency professional are flowing thick and fast and the Regulators and Adjudicators are having a hard time.

Not only that, even property buyers are being harassed at the hands of IRP/RP and Authorised Representatives. The process has become cumbersome and unfortunately the Regulator has left it to be sorted out on its own without any deep thinking and research on the subject. Writing english by way of Regulations is easy but when it comes to implementation, the avoidable issues that crop up could have been easily taken care of. We see formation of numerous committees on these subjects with some members using their association on social media platforms for enhancing their own image and reputation. The resultant work is not showing results; rather it has compounded the confusion. Serious change in planning and strategy is called for. Regulator cannot get away by saying that ‘everyone is learning by the day’ at public forums.  Regulating is a serious business.

Let us look at some of the challenges being faced by interim resolution professionals or resolution professionals (IRP/RP) while dealing with property buyers and vice versa and here’s my opinion on resolving some of them:

Challenge # 1 : Replacing IRP

Replacing IRP is a time consuming process in cases involving property buyers. IRP constitutes CoC and convenes its first meeting with usual agenda items of  remuneration and expense approval, and an item for his appointment as RP. Perceptively unhappy with the IRP’s functioning so far, the trend in few cases reveals that property buyers have voted out the appointment of IRP as RP. The democratic vote process is the winner but here begins the difficult part. Who will now be in the saddle as RP? Assuming there are 5 projects in different state of progress, there is a deep split amongst the property buyers. Each project has an association leading its way. Consensus to one name is the most arduous process. Once that is done, begins the task of requesting the RP to convene a meeting. As per regulations, financial creditors holding a minimum of 33% voting share must make a request for convening the meeting of CoC for considering agenda for appointment of another RP. Here begins the ‘free for all’.

First Challenge

In many cases, RP has refused to entertain e-mails from property buyers directly advising them to bring it through the Authorized Representative. This is patently wrong as Authorized Representative is not a ‘be-all’ for property buyers as financial creditors; he is merely a link for taking their ‘will’ on agenda items to CoC meetings by representing them. This does not mean that property owners cannot communicate directly with IRP/RP or entertain their request for calling a CoC meeting. IRP/RP should soften their stand as it is not legally tenable. Law permits property buyers to file claims directly to IRP and sort out problems in verification stage. Hence, communicating directly with IRP/RP is not prohibited.

Second Challenge

This begins at the door of Authorized Representative. The property buyers are informed that any requisition has to come via an e-mail. No physical request with signatures of property buyers will be entertained. Property buyers have to pull all their socks and arrange e-mails from one and all to muster 33%. Once that is done, Authorized Representative claims having not received e-mails. Precious days are wasted in locating e-mails in spam, junk and trash folders. Authorised Representatives need to understand that they are there to serve the interest of property buyers and should make it easy for them by not insisting on communicating only through e-mails. The propogators of ‘ease of doing business’ would do well to look into this aspect or else India’s rank for ‘insolvency matters’ is likely to go down.

Third  Challenge

Once 33% voting share is mustered, Authorised Representative throws a spanner by not showing any urgency in forwarding the request to IRP. If by chance, he receives some emails (not aggregating to 33%) from some property buyers suggesting another name, other than the one recommended by 33% voting share, he insists on sending this agenda item to IRP/RP to be included in CoC requisitioned by 33%. This effectively means there will now be a contest between two insolvency professionals for  being appointed as RP. The Authorised Representatives easily forgets that initially he insisted for 33% voting share for any agenda to be sent to IRP.

Fourth Challenge 

The IRP who receives the forwarded request for CoC meeting springs a surprise by insisting that the resolution forwarded for appointment of an IP as RP must contain the remuneration part also. Another round of discussion takes place over few days ignoring the basic intent behind IBC for making the process as ‘time-bound’. Zero knowledge is understandable but half knowledge is a dangerous phenomenon. It is the prerogative of the financial creditors to propose any agenda item in a requisitioned CoC meeting. IBC does not require that resolution for appointment of RP should contain the remuneration also. It can be decided later on as RP may also not be aware of the volume of work involved at this stage. It is a matter of decision by CoC at any stage not necessarily along with the resolution for appointment of RP. Despite being convinced, IRP takes his own time sulking by the fact that his name was rejected by same group of creditors. Calling a meeting in companies in real estate is a painful process with lack of trained IPs and their misconstrued interpretations. IPs should take legal advise from experts on these issues and proceed on the basis of a legal opinion because everything cannot be written in a law or regulations or rules. The focus should be on being logical, reasonable and fair.

(This is part I of continued series of challenges facing resolution of corporate in real estate sector) 

@Ashish Makhija: ashish@ashishmakhija.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are views based on my personal interpretation for academic purposes alone and should not be deemed as legal or professional advise on the subject. If relied upon, the author does not take any responsibility for any liability or non-compliance.

NCLT Knocks Out 137 Days from CIRP

NCLT Principal Bench in a recent order of NIIL Infrastructure Private Limited  directed exclusion of 137 days from CIRP period. The Bench was of the opinion that section 12(2) for extension of time as alternative prayer need not be invoked in the case. In this case, Resolution Professional (RP) was appointed by the Bench after a gap of 114 days after the tenure of Interim Resolution Professional (IRP) ended. Though the IRP organised few meetings of the committee of creditors (CoC) but no decision could be arrived at on the appointment of RP. It was only after the intervention of the Bench that CoC resolved to appoint RP. Earlier also 23 days were lost when inadvertently different IRP was appointed than the one proposed by the financial creditor. The Bench, thus, excluded 137 days from the CIRP period relying upon Quinn Logistics India Pvt Ltd judgement of the NCLAT. This order paves way for exclusion of time as an alternative to extension of time where there is delay in appointment of RP.

© Ashish Makhija: ashish@ashishmakhija.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are views based on my personal interpretation for academic purposes alone and should not be deemed as legal or professional advise on the subject. If relied upon, the author does not take any responsibility for any liability or non-compliance.

Fundamental Change in Insolvency Commencement Date – Ambivalent Thinking

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Second Amendment Bill, 2018 provides for a fundamental change in the insolvency commencement date (ICD) of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP). Presently ICD commences on the date when the order is passed by NCLT admitting the application for CIRP under section 7, 9 or 10. ICD is a significant date in the Code and many things turn on it such as the countdown for period of CIRP begins from ICD and the moratorium takes effect from ICD amongst others. In some cases, while passing the order of admission, the Bench does not simultaneously appoint an Interim Resolution Professional. This was a source of confusion as the appointment of the IRP at a later date than admission used to allow the IRP or RP lesser time than envisaged under the Code. The Second Amendment Bill, in order to correct this situation, has proposed to commence the ICD from the date of appointment of the IRP by NCLT by adding a proviso in section 5(12).

The proposed amendment looks reasonable on paper and is probably  based on experience out of the cases under the Code so far. The Code, we all know, owes its genesis to the Vishwanathan Committee Report (Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee Report). The Report has an incomparable sense of clarity of thought and as per the Report, the ICD plays an important role in the CIRP. 

The Report recommended commencement of moratorium from Insolvency Commencement Date. The date of passing of order of admission by the Adjudicating Authority was considered as a significant date and the moratorium also commenced from this date. Moratorium has a rational relation to CIRP in the sense that this marks the beginning of calm period. Calm period provides for no coercive action against the assets of the corporate debtor and also bars transfer or alienation of property of the corporate debtor. 

With the proposal to shift the Insolvency Commencement Date to the date of appointment of IRP by NCLT, there may be gap of few days in the date of order admitting the application and date of appointment of IRP. For this gap, no moratorium will be in effect and this may prove to be counter productive. Section 14(2) provides that supply of essential goods or services to the corporate debtor shall not be terminated or suspended or interrupted during moratorium period. During the gap between the order admitting the application for CIRP and date of appointment of IRP, this provision will not have any effect and the essential services may get disrupted which may affect the functionality and working of the corporate debtors as the news of CIRP spreads like wild fire. This does not behold good for the stakeholders of the corporate debtor. Penal sections such as section 71 will effectively lose their sting.

The solution lies in amending several provisions of the existing Code to retain the effect of the provisions of the Code. This is the beginning of more changes.

© Ashish Makhija: ashish@ashishmakhija.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are views based on my personal interpretation for academic purposes alone and should not be deemed as legal or professional advise on the subject. If relied upon, the author does not take any responsibility for any liability or non-compliance.

 

THIRD AMENDMENT IN CIRP REGULATIONS – A CASE OF OVERSTEPPING BY IBBI

[Updated after passage of Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Second Amendment) Act, 2018]

Since its introduction, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (Code) has ruffled feathers amongst the Indian corporate sector. Original Code has been amended few times and every amendment has been a classic case of discussion amongst the insolvency practitioners, who are front runners for their implementation. The recent amendment of corporate insolvency resolution process regulations by the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI) is no different. IBBI has exceeded its authority under the Code besides stoking confusion. The genesis of the Third Amendment in corporate insolvency resolution process regulations lies in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 (6 of 2018) which was promulgated by the President of India on 6 June 2018. The Amendment Ordinance, in turn, owes its existence to the Report of the Insolvency Law Committee submitted in March 2018.The need to amend the CIRP Regulations arose because of the Amendment Ordinance 2018.

Gap between Date of Ordinance and Amended Regulations

The gap between the date of commencement of the Ordinance and the date of amended Regulations was avoidable. The purpose of issuing Ordinance is to legislate urgent matters while the Parliament is not in session. Without the amended regulations, some of the amendments brought in by the Ordinance remained on paper and this has defeated the very purpose of promulgating the Ordinance. It was incumbent upon the Regulator to be prepared and issue the Regulations soon after the Ordinance for faster and effective implementation of the amendments.

Applicability of Third Amendment CIRP Regulations

The applicability clause of the Third Amendment has become a cause of concern. On plain reading, it sounds good, but a deeper analysis shows that clause 1(2) has been drafted without much thought. Clause (1) reads as under:

“1(1) These regulations may be called the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (Insolvency Resolution Process for Corporate Persons) (Third Amendment) Regulations, 2018.

 (2) They shall come into force on the date of their publicationin the Official Gazette and shall apply to corporate insolvencyresolution processes commencing on or after the said date.”

The enforcement date states that the amended regulations come into force from the date of their publication (i.e.3 July 2018) but applicabilityis restricted to corporate insolvency resolution processes commencing on or after 3 July 2018. This has come from nowhere, effectively nullifying the immediate applicability of the provisions amended by Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 (6 of 2018). It may be recalled that Amendment Ordinance 2018 came into force from 6 June 2018 and it is applicable for all corporate insolvency resolution processes regardless of their commencement date. In other words, any pending action under pending corporate insolvency resolution process or corporate insolvency resolution process commencing on or after 6 June 2018 requires compliance of amended provisions. It does not make a distinction between pending corporate insolvency resolution process or the corporate insolvency resolution process which commences on or after the date of enforcement of the Ordinance.

With no such express or implied intent in Ordinance, the Third Amendment in CIRP Regulations still distinguishes between the corporate insolvency resolution processes on the basis of their commencement date. The amended Regulations apply to corporate insolvency resolution processes commencing on or after 3rdJuly 2018. For example, Regulation 6 provides for public announcement. It has been amended to provide that the public announcement must state additional matters as per newly inserted clauses (ba) and (bb). Applying the applicability clause of the regulation, it applies to corporate insolvency resolution process that commence on or after 3 July 2018. In a case where application for initiation of corporate insolvency resolution process was admitted on 2 July 2018 and the public announcement was yet to be made, the additional matters are not required to be stated in the public announcement. In that sense, two sets of regulations will exist simultaneously and the Interim Resolution Professionals, resolution professionals, corporate debtors, committee of creditors, resolution applicants and adjudicating authority will have to keep in mind the two sets of regulations. It is a sure shot recipe for confusion and chaos.

The following tabular presentation assesses the difficulty that may arise in implementing some of the provisions of the Code which have become applicable from 6 June 2018:

Regulation  Number Subject Matter Analysis
3(1A) Consent to be obtained from Interim Resolution Professional or Resolution professional replacing Interim Resolution Professional in Form AA In pending corporate insolvency resolution process cases, this need not be followed as per applicability clause whereas the Code mandates that w.e.f 6 June 2018, written consent of Interim Resolution Professional and resolution professional replacing Interim Resolution Professional must be obtained.
4A Choice of Authorised Representative The Ordinance amended the Code treating property buyers as financial creditors w.e.f 6.6.2018. Hence, a right vests in such financial creditors to be a part of committee of creditors through authorized representative from that date. However, such a right has been negated in cases of corporate insolvency resolution processes pending as on 3.7.2018 since regulations relating to class of creditors are applicable for corporate insolvency resolution process commencing on or after 3 July 2018.
12(2) Late Submission of claims Prior to amendment, the claims could be filed with the Interim Resolution Professional or resolution professional before the approval of resolution plan. This has been changed to restrict late filing of claim up to ninety days from the insolvency commencement date.

Distinguishing between pending corporate insolvency resolution processes and fresh corporate insolvency resolution process on or after 3 July 2018 seems discretionary and there is no rational relation to the objective sought to be achieved.

30A Withdrawal of Application The Code has inserted a section for withdrawal of applications. Restricting it to cases of corporate insolvency resolution process commencing on or after 3 July 2018 defies reasoning. The Code does not state that this provision is applicable to future corporate insolvency resolution processes.

 

Regulation 30A relating to withdrawal of admitted application under section 12A is non-est

The insertion of Regulation 30A prescribing the manner of withdrawal of applications under section 12A cannot be a case of simple oversight. Section 12A of the Code reads as under:

“12A. Withdrawal of application admitted under section 7, 9 or 10.

The Adjudicating Authority may allow the withdrawal of application admitted under section 7 or section 9 or section 10, on an application made by the applicant with the approval of ninety per cent. voting share of the committee of creditors, in such manner as may be prescribed.”

The presence of the words ‘as may be prescribed’ in section 12A means that a corresponding Rule will be prescribed by the Central Government. This intent runs throughout the Code. This view is fortified if we consider clause (fa) inserted in Section 239(2), which reads as under:

The Second Amendment Act, 2018 has amended the language of section 12A and it reads as under:

“12A. Withdrawal of application admitted under section 7, 9 or 10.

The Adjudicating Authority may allow the withdrawal of application admitted under section 7 or section 9 or section 10, on an application made by the applicant with the approval of ninety per cent. voting share of the committee of creditors, in such manner as may be specified.”

“239. Power to make rules. –

(1) The Central Government may, by notification, make rules for carrying out the provisions of this Code.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions of sub-section (1), the Central Government may make rules for any of the following matters, namely: –

 xxxx

 (fa) the manner of withdrawal of application under section 12A;

 xxxx”

Clause (fa) has been inserted by Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 (6 of 2018) as a consequence of insertion of section 12A. Conjunct reading of section 12A and 239(2)(fa) underlines the fact that rules have to be made for the subject matter provided in section 12A and such rules can only be made by the Central Government. IBBI enjoys no power under section 12A or section 240 of the Code to make Regulations in respect of withdrawal of applications as provided under section 12A. The exercise of power by IBBI by inserting Regulation 30A exceeds authority. The Regulation 30 is a nullity in the eyes of law.

Clause (fa) proposed to be inserted by Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 (6 of 2018) as a consequence of insertion of section 12A stands omitted in the Second Amendment Act, 2018.

The exercise of ‘super authority’ by IBBI has created an avoidable confusion and chaos. Interestingly, the provisions of making the application under section 7,9 and 10 for initiating corporate insolvency resolution process are provided in the Rules framed by the Central Government but the manner of withdrawal of such an application is provided in the Regulations. This mistaken assumption of power by IBBI in prescribing the manner of withdrawal of application needs to be addressed immediately.

By amending the language of section 12A with replacement of as may be prescribed with as may be specified, the regulations issued by IBBI have become valid but it has created another dichotomy –  making of application under section 7, 9, 10 is governed by the Rules whereas withdrawal of application is governed by Regulations. This anomaly, if challenged, may lead to setting aside of Regulations.

Resolution Professional to make Application for Withdrawal

Regulation 30A(1) provides that Interim Resolution Professional shall make an application for withdrawal of application under section 12A in Form FA, after obtaining the consent of the committee of creditors by ninety percent voting share. The application is required to be made before issue of invitation of expression of interest under Regulation 6A. Section 12A does not restrict the time for making an application for withdrawal of application. However, the Regulation 30A prescribes the outer limit within which the application for withdrawal is to be made. This seems to be contrary to the scheme of the Code.

Further, the use of the word ‘applicant’ in section 12A refers to the applicant creditor and not the resolution professional. Sub-regulation (3) of Regulation 30A provides that the application for withdrawal is to be made by the resolution professional to the committee of creditors. Significantly, the Code provides that the application is to be made to the Tribunal.

Bank Guarantee to accompany the application

Regulation 30A(2) also provides that application for withdrawal shall be accompanied by a bank guarantee towards estimated cost incurred for purposes of clauses (c) and (d) of regulation 31 till the date of application. This provision is an additional requirement not envisaged under the Code. It is also not clear as to who will provide the bank guarantee – resolution professional or applicant creditor or corporate debtor or promoters/directors of the corporate debtor.

Committee of creditors to consider application within seven days

Regulation 30A(3) provides that the committee of creditors shall consider the application made by the resolution professional within seven days of its constitution or seven days of receipt of the application, whichever is later. The committee of creditors, in turn, has to approve the decision of withdrawal with ninety percent vote for withdrawal to be effective. There is no provision in the Code for making application to committee of creditors in section 12A.

Application to be forwarded to the Tribunal

Regulation 30A(4) also provides that ince the application is approved by the committee with ninety percent voting share, the resolution professional shall submit the application under sub-regulation (1) to the Adjudicating Authority on behalf of the applicant, within three days of such approval. The use of the word ‘on behalf of the applicant’ is surprising. The resolution professional, while making the application has to submit an affidavit verifying the application. Here, resolution professional becomes an applicant on behalf of the applicant. Such an intent is also missing in the Code.

Conclusion

IBBI has exceeded its authority while framing the Regulations. In terms of section 240, the Regulations framed by IBBI cannot be inconsistent with the provisions of the Code and the Rules framed thereunder. The Amended Regulations is a typical example of inconsistency between the Code and Regulations. IBBI has clearly overstepped its authority and the power delegated to it under the Code. IBBI owes its existence to the Code and it not expected to transgress the threshold set for it.

© Ashish Makhija: ashish@ashishmakhija.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are views based on my personal interpretation for academic purposes alone and should not be deemed as legal or professional advise on the subject. If relied upon, the author does not take any responsibility for any liability or non-compliance.

 

 

To Empanel or Not To Empanel – Confusion Confounds!

The Insolvency professionals are in a dilemma. The banks and financial institutions are creating a panel of their own to select insolvency professionals to be appointed as Interim Resolution Professional and Resolution Professionals. The lenders are doing this based on their own criteria and parameters. The persons selected to be on their panel are the registered insolvency professionals.

Mussadi Lal’s case set the tone when the Principal Bench headed by the President of NCLT rejected the decision of the committee of creditors to appoint a Resolution Professional in place of the Interim Resolution Professional because the insolvency professional was on the panel of one of the financial creditors. The Bench held that such a insolvency professional cannot be regarded as independent umpire to conduct corporate insolvency resolution process. The mere fact of empanelment of the insolvency professional became the cause of rejection.

The New Delhi Bench, in a recent order in Uttam Strips Limited, has, however, held that shortlisting of the names of eligible Resolution Professionals (sic) and maintenance of the list by Banks does not per se give rise to the fact that Resolution Professional would lean in favour of the financial creditor. The Bench held that his work is open to scrutiny and subject to final decision of the CoC.

The Bench took judicial note of the fact that banks normally propose the appointment of a Resolution Professional of their own choice and a person different from the one who had initially acted as the IRP. The Bank had shortlisted names of empaneled and eligible Resolution Professionals  for recommending the names in various corporate insolvency resolution processes. The Bench also noted that the person recommended had not rendered any professional services to the Bank in the past in any professional capacity. The Bank had shortlisted the names of 125 professionals for their appointment as Resolution Professional. This was done so that no time is lost in assessing their eligibility or seeking their consent. The fact that the bank had previously scrutinised the credentials of a professional is no ground to impute partiality.  The Bench held that there is nothing wrong in any bank maintaining their list of resolution professionals whom they feel are competent or experienced to handle the resolution process.

Understanding Counter View

This order by New Delhi Bench is in stark contrast to the earlier order of the Principal Bench. The interest of empanelled IPs may conflict if they have rendered any services to the Bank or financial creditor empanelling them. There may be a counter argument that the IP appointed as IRP or RP may have to tow the line of the Bank or else may not stand any chance of being recommended again for appointment in another case. The neutrality gets affected to this extent. But this argument may not hold good as the IP is bound by the ethical norms under the Code and Regulations. Independence is a state of mind and IP is independent if he acts independently.

© Ashish Makhija: ashish@ashishmakhija.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are views based on my personal interpretation for academic purposes alone and should not be deemed as legal or professional advise on the subject. If relied upon, the author does not take any responsibility for any liability or non-compliance.