Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee (BLRC) – SK Patodia

Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee (BLRC)

When a firm defaults, the question arises about what is to be done?

Many possibilities can be envisioned.

  • One possibility is to take the firm into liquidation.
  • Another possibility is to negotiate a debt restructuring, where the creditors accept a reduction of debt on an NPV basis, and hope that the negotiated value exceeds the liquidation value.
  • Another possibility is to sell the firm as a going concern and use the proceeds to pay creditors.

Many hybrid structures of these broad categories can be envisioned. The Committee believes that there is only one correct forum for evaluating such possibilities, and making a decision: a creditors committee, where all financial creditors have votes in proportion to the magnitude of debt that they hold. In the past, laws in India have brought arms of the government (legislature, executive or judiciary) into this question. This has been strictly avoided by the Committee. The appropriate disposition of a defaulting firm is a business decision, and only the creditors should make it.

Background

  • On November 4, 2015 Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee (BLRC) submitted its report to the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
  • Bankruptcy Law Reform was identified as a key priority for improving the ease of doing business.
  • The Government had constituted a Bankruptcy Law Reform Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. T. K. Viswanathan, former Law Secretary to look into various Bankruptcy related issues and give its report along with a draft Bill on the subject to the Government.

The Report of the BLRC is in two parts-

  1. Rationale and Design/Recommendations;
  2. A comprehensive draft Insolvency and Bankruptcy Bill covering all entities.

The draft Bill has consolidated the existing laws relating to insolvency of companies, limited liability entities (including limited liability partnerships and other entities with limited liability), unlimited liability partnerships and individuals which are presently scattered in a number of legislation’s, into a single legislation. The committee has observed that the enactment of the proposed Bill will provide greater clarity in the law and facilitate the application of consistent and coherent provisions to different stakeholders affected by business failure or inability to pay debt and will address the challenges being faced at present for swift and effective bankruptcy resolution. The Bill seeks to improve the handling of conflicts between creditors and debtors, avoid destruction of value, distinguish malfeasance vis-a-vis business failure and clearly allocate losses in macroeconomic downturns.

  1. Insolvency Regulator: The Bill proposes to establish an Insolvency Regulator to exercise regulatory oversight over insolvency professionals, insolvency professional agencies and informational utilities.
  2. Insolvency Adjudicating Authority:The Adjudicating Authority will have the jurisdiction to hear and dispose of cases by or against the debtor.
    • The Debt Recovery Tribunal (“DRT”) shall be the Adjudicating Authority with jurisdiction over individuals and unlimited liability partnership firms. Appeals from the order of DRT shall lie to the Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal (“DRAT”).
    • The National Company Law Tribunal (“NCLT”) shall be the Adjudicating Authority with jurisdiction over companies, limited liability entities. Appeals from the order of NCLT shall lie to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (“NCLAT”).
    • NCLAT shall be the appellate authority to hear appeals arising out of the orders passed by the Regulator in respect of insolvency professionals or information utilities.
  3. Insolvency Professionals:The draft Bill proposes to regulate insolvency professionals and insolvency professional agencies. Under Regulator’s oversight, these agencies will develop professional standards, codes of ethics and exercise a disciplinary role over errant members leading to the development of a competitive industry for insolvency professionals.
  4. Insolvency Information Utilities:The draft Bill proposes for information utilities which would collect, collate, authenticate and disseminate financial information from listed companies and financial and operational creditors of companies. An individual insolvency database is also proposed to be set up with the goal of providing information on insolvency status of individuals.
  5. Bankruptcy and Insolvency Processes for Companies and Limited Liability Entities: The draft Bill proposes to revamp the revival/re-organisation regime applicable to financially distressed companies and limited liability entities; and the insolvency related liquidation regime applicable to companies and limited liability entities.
    • The draft Bill lays down a clear, coherent and speedy process for early identification of financial distress and revival of the companies and limited liability entities if the underlying business is found to be viable.
    • The draft Bill prescribes a swift process and timeline of 180 days for dealing with applications for insolvency resolution. This can be extended for 90 days by the Adjudicating Authority only in exceptional cases. During insolvency resolution period (of 180/270 days), the management of the debtor is placed in the hands of an interim resolution professional/resolution professional.
    • An insolvency resolution plan prepared by the resolution professional has to be approved by a majority of 75% of voting share of the financial creditors. Once the plan is approved, it would require sanction of the Adjudicating Authority. If an insolvency resolution plan is rejected, the Adjudicating Authority will make an order for the liquidation.
    • The draft Bill also provides for a fast track insolvency resolution process which may be applicable to certain categories of entities. In such a case, the insolvency resolution process has to be completed within a period of 90 days from the trigger date. However, on request from the resolution professional based on the resolution passed by the committee of creditors, a one-time extension of 45 days can be granted by the Adjudicating Authority. The order of priorities [waterfall] in which the proceeds from the realisation of the assets of the entity are to be distributed to its creditors is also provided for.
  6. Bankruptcy and Insolvency Processes for Individuals and Unlimited Liability Partnerships: The draft Bill also proposes an insolvency regime for individuals and unlimited liability partnerships also. As a precursor to a bankruptcy process, the draft Bill envisages two distinct processes under this Part, namely, Fresh Start and Insolvency Resolution.
    • In the Fresh Start process, indigent individuals with income and assets lesser than specified thresholds (annual gross income does not exceed Rs. 60,000 and aggregate value of assets does not exceed Rs.20,000) shall be eligible to apply for a discharge from their “qualifying debts” (i.e. debts which are liquidated, unsecured and not excluded debts and up to Rs.35,000). The resolution professional will investigate and prepare a final list of all qualifying debts within 180 days from the date of application. On the expiry of this period, the Adjudicating Authority will pass an order on discharging of the debtor from the qualifying debts and accord an opportunity to the debtor to start afresh, financially.
    • In the Insolvency Resolution Process, the creditors and the debtor will engage in negotiations to arrive at an agreeable repayment plan for composition of the debts and affairs of the debtor, supervised by a resolution professional.
    • The bankruptcy of an individual can be initiated only after the failure of the resolution process. The bankruptcy trustee is responsible for administration of the estate of the bankrupt and for distribution of the proceeds on the basis of the priority.

The failure of some business plans is integral to the process of the market economy. When business failure takes place, the best outcome for society is to have a rapid renegotiation between the financiers, to finance the going concern using a new arrangement of liabilities and with a new management team. If this cannot be done, the best outcome for society is a rapid liquidation. India is in the process of laying the foundations of a mature market economy. This involves well drafted modern laws, that replace the laws of the preceding 100 years, and high performance organisations which enforce these new laws. The Committee has endeavored to provide one critical building block of this process, with a modern insolvency and bankruptcy code, and the design of associated institutional infrastructure which reduces delays and transaction costs

Bankruptcy and insolvency for persons Firms can be liquidated, but individuals cannot. Many concepts in the IRP, such as obtaining a new owner with a revival plan, are not applicable for individuals. A simplified process is envisaged for default by individuals. This includes a concept of a “Fresh Start” where specified loans of a limited class of borrowers can be waived, but this information about individual bankruptcy will reflect in the records of the individual.

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