1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies toward Foreign Direct Investment
Changes in India’s foreign investment rules are notified in two different ways: (1) Press Notes issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) for most sectors, and (2) legislative action for insurance, pension funds, and state-owned enterprises in the coal sector. FDI proposals in sensitive sectors, however, require the additional approval of the Home Ministry.
DPIIT, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is India’s chief investment regulator and policy maker. It compiles all policies related to India’s FDI regime into a single document to make it easier for investors to understand, and this consolidated policy is updated every year. The updated policy can be accessed at: DPIIT, through the Foreign Investment Implementation Authority (FIIA), plays an active role in resolving foreign investors’ project implementation problems and disseminates information about the Indian investment climate to promote investments. The Department establishes bilateral economic cooperation agreements in the region and encourages and facilitates foreign technology collaborations with Indian companies and DPIIT oftentimes consults with lead ministries and stakeholders. There however have been multiple incidents where relevant stakeholders reported being left out of consultations.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
In most sectors, foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own businesses and engage in remunerative activities. Several sectors of the economy continue to retain equity limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also mandated that insurance companies retain “Indian management and control.” In the parliament’s 2021 budget session, the Indian government approved increasing the FDI caps in the insurance sector to 74 percent from 49 percent. However, the legislation retained the “Indian management and control” rider. In the August 2020 session of parliament, the government approved reforms that opened the agriculture sector to FDI, as well as allowed direct sales of products and contract farming, though implementation of these changes was temporarily suspended in the wake of widespread protests. In 2016, India allowed up to 100 percent FDI in domestic airlines; however, the issue of substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) rules that mandate majority control by Indian nationals have not yet been clarified. A list of investment caps is accessible at: .
Screening of FDI
All FDI must be reviewed under either an “Automatic Route” or “Government Route” process. The Automatic Route simply requires a foreign investor to notify the Reserve Bank of India of the investment and applies in most sectors. In contrast, investments requiring review under the Government Route must obtain the approval of the ministry with jurisdiction over the appropriate sector along with the concurrence of DPIIT. The government route includes sectors deemed as strategic including defense, telecommunications, media, pharmaceuticals, and insurance. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures and brought a number of sectors including coal mining and contract manufacturing under the automatic route.
FDI inflows were mostly directed towards the largest metropolitan areas – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai – and the state of Gujarat. The services sector garnered the largest percentage of FDI. Further FDI statistics are available at:
Other Investment Policy Reviews
DPIIT is responsible for formulation and implementation of promotional and developmental measures for growth of the industrial sector, keeping in view national priorities and socio- economic objectives. While individual lead ministries look after the production, distribution, development and planning aspects of specific industries allocated to them, DPIIT is responsible for overall industrial policy. It is also responsible for facilitating and increasing the FDI flows to the country.
is the official investment promotion and facilitation agency of the Government of India, which is managed in partnership with DPIIT, state governments, and business chambers. Invest India specialists work with investors through their investment lifecycle to provide support with market entry strategies, industry analysis, partner search, and policy advocacy as required. Businesses can register online through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website: . After the registration, all new investments require industrial approvals and clearances from relevant authorities, including regulatory bodies and local governments. To fast-track the approval process, especially in the case of major projects, Prime Minister Modi started the Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI initiative) – a digital, multi-modal platform to speed the government’s approval process. As of January 2020, a total of 275 project proposals worth around $173 billion across ten states were cleared through PRAGATI. Prime Minister Modi personally monitors the process to ensure compliance in meeting PRAGATI project deadlines. The government also launched an Inter-Ministerial Committee in late 2014, led by the DPIIT, to help track investment proposals that require inter-ministerial approvals. Business and government sources report this committee meets informally and on an ad hoc basis as they receive reports of stalled projects from business chambers and affected companies.
The Ministry of Commerce’s India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) claimed in March 2020 that outbound investment from India had undergone a considerable change in recent years in terms of magnitude, geographical spread, and sectorial composition. Indian firms invest in foreign markets primarily through mergers and acquisition (M&A). According to a Care Ratings study, corporate India invested around $12.25 billion in overseas markets between April and December 2020. The investment was mostly into wholly owned subsidiaries of companies. In terms of country distribution, the dominant destinations were the Unites States ($2.36 billion), Singapore ($2.07 billion), Netherlands ($1.50 billion), British Virgin Islands ($1.37 billion), and Mauritius ($1.30 million).
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
India adopted a new model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in December 2015, following several adverse rulings in international arbitration proceedings. The new model BIT does not allow foreign investors to use investor-state dispute settlement methods, and instead requires foreign investors first to exhaust all local judicial and administrative remedies before entering international arbitration. The Indian government also served termination notices for existing BITs with 73 countries.
In September 2018, Belarus became the first country to execute a new BIT with India, based on the new model BIT, followed by the Taipei Cultural & Economic Centre (TECC) in December 2019, and Brazil in January 2020. India has also entered into a BIT negotiation with the Philippines and joint interpretative statements are under discussion with Iran, Switzerland, Morocco, Kuwait, Ukraine, UAE, San Marino, Hong Kong, Israel, Mauritius, and Oman.
Currently 14 BITs are in force. The Ministry of Finance said the revised model BIT will be used for the renegotiation of existing and any future BITs and will form the investment chapter in any Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements (CECAs)/Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (CEPAs)/Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).
Bilateral Taxation Treaties
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Some government policies are written in a way that can be discriminatory to foreign investors or favor domestic industry. For example, approval in 2021 for higher FDI thresholds in the insurance sector came with a requirement of “Indian management and control.” On most occasions the rules are framed after thorough discussions by government authorities and require the approval of the cabinet and, in some cases, the Parliament as well. Policies pertaining to foreign investments are framed by DPIIT, and implementation is undertaken by lead federal ministries and sub-national counterparts. However, in some instances the rules have been framed without following any consultative process.
In 2017, India began assessing a six percent “equalization levy,” or withholding tax, on foreign online advertising platforms with the ostensible goal of “equalizing the playing field” between resident service suppliers and non-resident service suppliers. However, its provisions did not provide credit for taxes paid in other countries for services supplied in India. In February 2020, the FY 2020-21 budget included an expansion of the “equalization levy,” adding a two percent tax to the equalization levy on foreign e-commerce and digital services provider companies. Neither the original 2017 levy, nor the additional 2020 two percent tax applied to Indian firms. In February 2021, the FY 2021-22 budget included three amendments “clarifying” the 2020 equalization levy expansion that will significantly extend the scope and potential liability for U.S. digital and e-commerce firms. The changes to the levy announced in 2021 will be implemented retroactively from April 2020. The 2020 and 2021 changes were enacted without prior notification or an opportunity for public comment.
The Indian Accounting Standards were issued under the supervision and control of the Accounting Standards Board, a committee under the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), and has government, academic, and professional representatives. The Indian Accounting Standards are named and numbered in the same way as the corresponding International Financial Reporting Standards. The National Advisory Committee on Accounting Standards recommends these standards to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, which all listed companies must then adopt. These can be accessed at:
International Regulatory Considerations
India is a member of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an eight- member regional block in South Asia. India’s regulatory systems are aligned with SAARC’s economic agreements, visa regimes, and investment rules. Dispute resolution in India has been through tribunals, which are quasi-judicial bodies. India has been a member of the WTO since 1995, and generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade; however, at times there are delays in publishing the notifications. The Governments of India and the United States cooperate in areas such as standards, trade facilitation, competition, and antidumping practices.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
India adopted its legal system from English law and the basic principles of the Common Law as applied in the UK are largely prevalent in India. However, foreign companies need to make adaptations for Indian Law and the Indian business culture when negotiating and drafting contracts in India to ensure adequate protection in case of breach of contract. The Indian judiciary provides for an integrated system of courts to administer both central and state laws. The judicial system includes the Supreme Court as the highest national court, as well as a High Court in each state or a group of states which covers a hierarchy of subordinate courts. Article 141 of the Constitution of India provides that a decision declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. Apart from courts, tribunals are also vested with judicial or quasi-judicial powers by special statutes to decide controversies or disputes relating to specified areas.
Courts have maintained that the independence of the judiciary is a basic feature of the Constitution, which provides the judiciary institutional independence from the executive and legislative branches.
The government has a policy framework on FDI, which is updated every year and formally notified as the Consolidated FDI Policy ( ). DPIIT makes policy pronouncements on FDI through Consolidated FDI Policy Circular/Press Notes/Press Releases which are notified by the Ministry of Finance as amendments to the Foreign Exchange Management (Non-Debt Instruments) Rules, 2019 under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (42 of 1999) (FEMA). These notifications take effect from the date of issuance of the Press Notes/ Press Releases, unless specified otherwise therein. In case of any conflict, the relevant Notification under Foreign Exchange Management (Non-Debt Instruments) Rules, 2019 will prevail. The payment of inward remittance and reporting requirements are stipulated under the Foreign Exchange Management (Mode of Payment and Reporting of Non-Debt Instruments) Regulations, 2019 issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The regulatory framework, over a period, thus, consists of FEMA and Rules/Regulations thereunder, Consolidated FDI Policy Circulars, Press Notes, Press Releases, and Clarifications.
The government has introduced a “Make in India” program. “Self-Reliant India” program, as well as investment policies designed to promote domestic manufacturing and attract foreign investment. “Digital India” aimed to open up new avenues for the growth of the information technology sector. The “Start-up India” program created incentives to enable start-ups to become commercially viable businesses and grow. The “Smart Cities” project was launched to open new avenues for industrial technological investment opportunities in select urban areas.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The central government has been successful in establishing independent and effective regulators in telecommunications, banking, securities, insurance, and pensions. The Competition Commission of India (CCI), India’s antitrust body, reviews cases against cartelization and abuse of dominance as well as conducts capacity-building programs for bureaucrats and business officials. Currently, the Commission’s investigations wing is required to seek the approval of the local chief metropolitan magistrate for any search and seizure operations. The Securities and Exchange Bureau of India (SEBI) enforces corporate governance standards and is well-regarded by foreign institutional investors. The RBI, which regulates the Indian banking sector, is also held in high regard. Some Indian regulators, including SEBI and the RBI, engage with industry stakeholders through periods of public comment, but the practice is not consistent across the government.
Expropriation and Compensation
Tax experts confirm that India does not have domestic expropriation laws in place. Legislative authority does exist in the form of the retroactive taxation, a measure introduced in 2012 and that has been defended despite government assurances of not introducing new retroactive taxes. The Indian government has been divesting from state owned enterprises (SOEs) since 1991. In February 2021, the Finance Minister detailed an ambitious program to privatize roughly $24 billion in SOEs and public sector assets to both help finance the FY 2021-22 budget without increasing taxes and reducing the role of the government in the economy.
India made resolving contract disputes and insolvency easier with the enactment and implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). Among the areas where India has improved the most in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Ranking the past three years has been under the resolving insolvency metric. The World Bank Report noted that the 2016 law introduced the option of insolvency resolution for commercial entities as an alternative to liquidation or other mechanisms of debt enforcement, reshaping the way insolvent companies can restore their financial well-being or close down. The Code put in place effective tools for creditors to successfully negotiate and increased their ability to receive payments. As a result, the overall recovery rate for creditors jumped from 26.5 to 71.6 cents on the dollar and the time taken for resolving insolvency also was reduced significantly from 4.3 years to 1.6 years. With these changes, India became the highest performer in South Asia in this category and exceeded the average for OECD high-income economies
India enacted the Arbitration and Conciliation Act in 1996, based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law model, as an attempt to align its adjudication of commercial contract dispute resolution mechanisms with global standards. The government established the International Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ICADR) as an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Law and Justice to promote the settlement of domestic and international disputes through alternate dispute resolution. The World Bank has also funded ICADR to conduct training for mediators in commercial dispute settlement.
Judgments of foreign courts have been enforced under multilateral conventions, including the Geneva Convention. India is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). It is not unusual for Indian firms to file lawsuits in domestic courts in order to delay paying an arbitral award. Several cases are currently pending, the oldest of which dates to 1983, and the latest case is that of Amazon Vs. Future Retail, in which Amazon also received an interim award in its favour from the Singapore International Arbitration Centre. Future Retail refused to accept the findings and initiated litigation in Indian courts. India is not a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague and the Indian Law Ministry agreed in 2007 to establish a regional PCA office in New Delhi, although it remains pending. The office would provide an arbitration forum to match the facilities offered at The Hague but at a lower cost.
In November 2009, the Department of Revenue’s Central Board of Direct Taxes established eight dispute resolution panels across the country to settle the transfer-pricing tax disputes of domestic and foreign companies. In 2016 the government also presented amendments to the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Act to establish specialized commercial divisions within domestic courts to settle long-pending commercial disputes.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, India has been a respondent state for 25 investment dispute settlement cases, of which 13 remain pending. Case details can be accessed at .
Though India is not a signatory to the ICSID Convention, current claims by foreign investors against India can be pursued through the ICSID Additional Facility Rules, the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL Model Law) rules, or via ad hoc proceedings.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Since formal dispute resolution is expensive and time consuming, many businesses choose methods, including ADR, for resolving disputes. The most used ADRs are arbitration and mediation. India has enacted the Arbitration and Conciliation Act based on the UNCITRAL Model Laws of Arbitration. Experts agree that the ADR techniques are extra-judicial in character and emphasize that ADR cannot displace litigation. In cases that involve constitutional or criminal law, traditional litigation remains necessary.
Dispute Resolutions Pending
An increasing backlog of cases at all levels reflects the need for reform of the dispute resolution system, whose infrastructure is characterized by an inadequate number of courts, benches, and judges; inordinate delays in filling judicial vacancies; and a very low rate of 14 judges per one million people.
The introduction and implementation of the IBC in 2016 led to an overhaul of the previous framework on insolvency and paved the way for much-needed reforms. The IBC created a uniform and comprehensive creditor-driven insolvency resolution process that encompasses all companies, partnerships, and individuals (other than financial firms). According to the World Bank Doing Business Report, after the implementation of the IBC, the time taken to for resolving insolvency was reduced significantly from 4.3 years to 1.6 years. The law, however, does not provide for U.S. style Chapter 11 bankruptcy provisions.
In August 2016, the Indian Parliament passed amendments to the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act, and the Debt Recovery Tribunals Act. These amendments targeted helping banks and financial institutions recover loans more effectively, encouraging the establishment of more asset reconstruction companies (ARCs), and revamping debt recovery tribunals. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while presenting the FY 2021-22 budget, proposed setting up an ARC, or “bad bank”, to address perennial non-performing assets (NPAs) in the public banking sector.