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: http://www.mca.gov.in/MinistryV2/Stand.html
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.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The government has a policy framework on FDI, which is updated every year and formally notified as the Consolidated FDI Policy ( http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct–investment/foreign-direct–investment-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 https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/investment-dispute-settlement/country/96/india .
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.
4. Industrial Policies
The regulatory environment in terms of foreign investment has been eased to make it investor friendly. The measures taken by the Government are directed to open new sectors for foreign direct investment, increase the sectoral limit of existing sectors, and simplifying other conditions of the FDI policy. The Indian government has issued guarantees to investments but only in cases of strategic industries.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The government established several foreign trade zone initiatives to encourage export-oriented production. These include Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Export Processing Zones (EPZs), Software Technology Parks (STPs), and Export Oriented Units (EOUs). EPZs are industrial parks with incentives for foreign investors in export-oriented businesses. STPs are special zones with similar incentives for software exports. EOUs are industrial companies, established anywhere in India, that export their entire production and are granted the following: duty-free import of intermediate goods, income tax holidays, exemption from excise tax on capital goods, components, and raw materials, and a waiver on sales taxes. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, as of October 2020, 426 SEZ’s have been approved and 262 SEZs were operational. SEZs are treated as foreign territory — businesses operating within SEZs are not subject to customs regulations nor have FDI equity caps. They also receive exemptions from industrial licensing requirements and enjoy tax holidays and other tax breaks. In 2018, the Indian government announced guidelines for the establishment of the National Industrial and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs), envisaged as integrated industrial townships to be managed by a special purpose vehicle and headed by a government official. So far, three NIMZs have been accorded final approval and 13 have been accorded in-principal approval. In addition, eight investment regions along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) have also been established as NIMZs. These initiatives are governed by separate rules and granted different benefits, details of which can be found at: http://www.sezindia.nic.in, https://www.stpi.in/ http://www.fisme.org.in/export_schemes/DOCS/B–
1/EXPORT%20ORIENTED%20UNIT%20SCHEME.pdf and http://www.makeinindia.com/home.
The GOI’s revised Foreign Trade Policy, which will be effective for five years starting April 1, 2021, is expected to include a new regionally focused District Export Hubs initiative in addition to existing SEZs and NIMZs
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Preferential Market Access (PMA) for government procurement has created substantial challenges for foreign firms operating in India. State-owned “Public Sector Undertakings” and the government accord a 20 percent price preference to vendors utilizing more than 50 percent local content. However, PMA for government procurement limits access to the most cost effective and advanced ICT products available. In December 2014, PMA guidelines were revised and reflect the following updates:
1. Current guidelines emphasize that the promotion of domestic manufacturing is the objective of PMA, while the original premise focused on the linkages between equipment procurement and national security.
2. Current guidelines on PMA implementation are limited to hardware procurement only. Former guidelines were applicable to both products and services.
3. Current guidelines widen the pool of eligible PMA bidders, to include authorized distributors, sole selling agents, authorized dealers or authorized supply houses of the domestic manufacturers of electronic products, in addition to OEMs, provided they comply with the following terms:
a. The bidder shall furnish the authorization certificate by the domestic manufacturer for selling domestically manufactured electronic products.
b. The bidder shall furnish the affidavit of self-certification issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency declaring that the electronic product is domestically manufactured in terms of the domestic value addition prescribed.
c. It shall be the responsibility of the bidder to furnish other requisite documents required to be issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency as per the policy.
4. The current guidelines establish a ceiling on fees linked with the complaint procedure. There would be a complaint fee of INR 200,000 ($3,000) or one percent of the value of the Domestically Manufactured Electronic Product being procured, subject to a maximum of INR 500,000 ($7,500), whichever is higher.
In January 2017, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) issued a draft notification under the PMA policy, stating a preference for domestically manufactured servers in government procurement. A current list of PMA guidelines, notified products, and tendering templates can be found on MeitY’s website: http://meity.gov.in/esdm/pma.
Research and Development
The Government of India allows for 100 percent FDI in research and development through the automatic route.
Data Storage & Localization
In April 2018, the RBI, announced, without prior stakeholder consultation, that all payment system providers must store their Indian transaction data only in India. The RBI mandate went into effect on October 15, 2018, despite repeated requests by industry and U.S. officials for a delay to allow for more consultations. In July 2019, the RBI, again without prior stakeholder consultation, retroactively expanded the scope of its 2018 data localization requirement to include banks, creating potential liabilities going back to late 2018. RBI policy overwhelmingly and disproportionately has affected U.S. banks and investors, who depend on the free flow of data to both achieve economies of scale and to protect customers by providing global real-time monitoring and analysis of fraud trends and cybersecurity. U.S. payments companies have been able to implement the mandate for the most part, though at great cost and potential damage to the long-term security of their Indian customer base, which will receive fewer services and no longer benefit from global fraud detection and anti-money-laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) protocols. Similarly, U.S. banks have been able to comply with RBI’s expanded mandate, though incurring significant compliance costs and increased risk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
In addition to the RBI data localization directive for payments companies and banks, the government formally introduced its draft Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) in December 2019 which has remained pending in Parliament. The PDPB would require “explicit consent” as a condition for the cross-border transfer of sensitive personal data, requiring users to fill out separate forms for each company that held their data. Additionally, Section 33 of the bill would require a copy of all “sensitive personal data” and “critical personal data” to be stored in India, potentially creating redundant local data storage. The localization of all “sensitive personal data” being processed in India could directly impact IT exports. In the current draft no clear criteria for the classification of “critical personal data” has been included. The PDPB also would grant wide authority for a newly created Data Protection Authority to define terms, develop regulations, or otherwise provide specifics on key aspects of the bill after it becomes a law. Reports on Non-Personal Data and the implementation of a New Information Technology Rule 2021 with Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code added further uncertainty to how existing rules will interact with the PDPB and how non-personal data will be handled. 5.Protection of Property Rights
5.Protection of Property Rights
In India, a registered sales deed does not confer title of land ownership and is merely a record of the sales transaction. It only confers presumptive ownership, which can still be disputed. The title is established through a chain of historical transfer documents that originate from the land’s original established owner. Accordingly, before purchasing land, buyers should examine all the documents that establish title from the original owner. Many owners, particularly in urban areas, do not have access to the necessary chain of documents. This increases uncertainty and risks in land transactions.
Several cities, including the metropolitan cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai, have grown according to a master plan registered with the central government’s Ministry of Urban Development. Property rights are generally well-enforced in such places, and district magistrates — normally senior local government officials — notify land and property registrations. Banks and financial institutions provide mortgages and liens against such registered property.
In other urban areas, and in areas where illegal settlements have been established, titling often remains unclear. As per the Department of Land Resources, in 2008 the government launched the National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP) to clarify land records and provide landholders with legal titles. The program requires the government to survey an area of approximately 2.16 million square miles, including over 430 million rural households, 55 million urban households, and 430 million land records. Initially scheduled for completion in 2016, the program is now scheduled to conclude in 2021.
Though land is a state government (sub-national) subject, “acquisition and requisitioning of property” is in the concurrent list and so both the Indian Parliament and state legislatures can make laws on this subject. Land acquisition in India is governed by the Land Acquisition Act (2013), which entered into force in 2014, and continues to be a complicated process due to the lack of an effective legal framework. Land sales require adequate compensation, resettlement of displaced citizens, and 70 percent approval from landowners. The displacement of poorer citizens is politically challenging for local governments.
Foreign and domestic private entities are permitted to establish and own businesses in trading companies, subsidiaries, joint ventures, branch offices, project offices, and liaison offices, subject to certain sector-specific restrictions. The government does not permit foreign investment in real estate, other than company property used to conduct business and for the development of most types of new commercial and residential properties. Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) can now invest in initial public offerings (IPOs) of companies engaged in real estate. They can also participate in pre-IPO placements undertaken by such real estate companies without regard to FDI stipulations.
Businesses that intend to build facilities on land they own are also required to take the following steps: register the land, seek land use permission if the industry is located outside an industrially zoned area, obtain environmental site approval, seek authorization for electricity and financing, and obtain appropriate approvals for construction plans from the respective state and municipal authorities. Promoters must also obtain industry-specific environmental approvals in compliance with the Water and Air Pollution Control Acts. Petrochemical complexes, petroleum refineries, thermal power plants, bulk drug makers, and manufacturers of fertilizers, dyes, and paper, among others, must obtain clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
In 2016, India introduced its first regulator in the real estate sector in the form of the Real Estate Act. The Real Estate Act, 2016 aims to protect the rights and interests of consumers and promote uniformity and standardization of business practices and transactions in the real estate sector. Details are available at: http://mohua.gov.in/cms/TheRealEstateAct2016.php
The Foreign Exchange Management Regulations and the Foreign Exchange Management Act set forth the rules that allow foreign entities to own immoveable property in India and convert foreign currencies for the purposes of investing in India. These regulations can be found at: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/Fema.aspx . Foreign investors operating under the automatic route are allowed the same rights as an Indian citizen for the purchase of immovable property in India in connection with an approved business activity.
Traditional land use rights, including communal rights to forests, pastures, and agricultural land, are sanctioned according to various laws, depending on the land category and community residing on it. Relevant legislation includes the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, the Tribal Rights Act, and the Tribal Land Act.
Intellectual Property Rights
India remained on the Priority Watch List in the 2020 Special 301 Report due to concerns over weak intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement. The 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy includes physical and online marketplaces located in or connected to India. The United States and India have continued to engage on a range of IP challenges facing U.S. companies in India with the intention of creating stronger IP protection and enforcement in India.
In the field of copyright, procedural hurdles, problematic policies, and effective enforcement remained concerns. In February 2019, the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, which would criminalize illicit camcording of films, was tabled in Parliament and remains pending. The expansive granting of licenses under Chapter VI of the Indian Copyright Act and overly broad exceptions for certain uses have raised concerns regarding the strength of copyright protection and complicated the market for music licensing. In June 2020, the Copyright Board was merged with the Intellectual Property Appellate Board. The lack of a functional copyright board had previously created uncertainty regarding how IP royalties were collected and distributed.
In 2019, the DPIIT proposed draft Copyright Amendment Rules that would broaden the scope of statutory licensing to encompass not only radio and television broadcasting but also online broadcasting, despite a high court ruling earlier in 2019 that held that statutory broadcast licensing does not include online broadcasts. If implemented, the Amendment Rules would have severe implications for Internet content-related right holders.
In the area of patents, a number of factors negatively affect stakeholders’ perception of India’s overall IP regime, investment climate, and innovation goals. The potential threat of compulsory licenses and patent revocations, and the narrow patentability criteria under the Indian Patent Act, burden companies across different sectors. Patent applications continue to face expensive and time consuming pre- and post-grant oppositions and excessive reporting requirements. In October 2020, India issued a revised “Statement of Working of Patents” (Form 27). The United States is monitoring whether the revision addresses concerns previously raised by innovators over Form 27’s burdensome nature and required disclosure of sensitive business information.
While certain administrative decisions in past years have upheld patent rights, and specific tools and remedies do exist in India to support the rights of a patent holder, concerns remain over revocations and other challenges to patents, especially patents for agriculture biotechnology and pharmaceutical products. In particular, the United States continues to monitor India’s application of its compulsory licensing law. Moreover, the Indian Supreme Court’s 2013 decision that India’s Patent Law created a second tier of requirements for patenting certain technologies, such as pharmaceuticals, continues to be of concern as it may limit the patentability in India for an array of potentially beneficial innovations.
India currently lacks an effective system for protecting against unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed tests or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical and agricultural products. The U.S. government and stakeholders have also raised concerns with respect to allegedly infringing pharmaceuticals being marketed without advance notice or opportunity for parties to resolve their IP disputes.
U.S. and Indian companies have expressed interest in eliminating gaps in India’s trade secrets regime, such as through the adoption of standalone trade secrets legislation. In 2016, India’s National Intellectual Property Rights Policy called for trade secrets to serve as an “important area of study for future policy development,” but India has not yet prioritized this work.
Developments Strengthening the Rights of IP Holders
In terms of progress in patent examination, India issued a revised Manual of Patent Office Practice and Procedure in November 2019 that requires patent examiners to look to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Centralized Access to Search and Examination (CASE) system and Digital Access Service (DAS) to find prior art and other information filed by patent applicants in other jurisdictions.
Other developments over the past year strengthening the rights of IP holders include India’s continued efforts to reduce delays and backlogs of patent and trademark applications, the Cell for IPR Promotion and Management’s (CIPAM) promotion of IP awareness and commercialization throughout India, and ongoing efforts to improve IP enforcement, particularly at the state level. However, state-level IP enforcement remains uneven in India, with some states conducting enforcement activities and others falling short in this regard.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
According to media reports, India climbed two notches in 2020 to take the eighth spot among the world’s top stock markets as equities crossed the $2.5 trillion market capitalization mark on December 28, 2020 for the first time. The previous high was in January 2018 when market capitalization reached $2.47 trillion. 2020 saw 15 initial public offer (IPO) issues raising over $3.8 billion (INR 266.11 billion), a 115.3 percent rise over $1.77 billion (INR 123.61 billion) raised in 2019 through 16 IPO issues.
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is considered one of the most progressive and well-run of India’s regulatory bodies. It regulates India’s securities markets, including enforcement activities, and is India’s direct counterpart to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). SEBI oversees three national exchanges: the BSE Ltd. (formerly the Bombay Stock Exchange), the National Stock Exchange (NSE), and the Metropolitan Stock Exchange. SEBI also regulates the three national commodity exchanges: the Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX), the National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Limited, and the National Multi-Commodity Exchange.
Foreign venture capital investors (FVCIs) must register with SEBI to invest in Indian firms. They can also set up domestic asset management companies to manage funds. All such investments are allowed under the automatic route, subject to SEBI and RBI regulations, and to FDI policy. FVCIs can invest in many sectors, including software, information technology, pharmaceuticals and drugs, biotechnology, nanotechnology, biofuels, agriculture, and infrastructure.
Companies incorporated outside India can raise capital in India’s capital markets through the issuance of Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) based on SEBI guidelines. Standard Chartered Bank, a British bank which was the first and only foreign entity to list in India in June 2010, delisted from the domestic exchanges in June 2020. Experts attribute the lack of interest in IDR to initial entry barriers, lack of clarity on conversion of the IDR holding into overseas shares, lack of tax clarity, and the regulator’s failure to popularize the product.
External commercial borrowing (ECB), or direct lending to Indian entities by foreign institutions, is allowed if it conforms to parameters such as minimum maturity; permitted and non-permitted end-uses; maximum all-in-cost ceiling as prescribed by the RBI; funds are used for outward FDI or for domestic investment in industry, infrastructure, hotels, hospitals, software, self-help groups or microfinance activities, or to buy shares in the disinvestment of public sector entities. The rules are published by the RBI: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=47736.
According to RBI data, external commercial borrowings (ECBs) by corporations reached $36.35 billion in 2020. This was the second highest inflow of offshore loans in a calendar year, following $50.51 billion raised in 2019. The monthly borrowing dropped to a multi-year low of $0.9 billion in April when the lockdown brought both economic and lending activities to a standstill. It then improved to $5.22 billion in September, driven by funds-raising by Reliance Industries. Non-banking financial companies (NBFC) also increased borrowing and corporations raised $1.6 billion through the issuance of rupee-denominated bonds.
The RBI has taken a number of steps in the past few years to bring the activities of the offshore Indian rupee market in Non-Deliverable Forwards (NDF) onshore, in order to deepen domestic markets, enhance downstream benefits, and generally obviate the need for an NDF market. FPIs with access to currency futures or the exchange-traded currency options market can hedge onshore currency risks in India and may directly trade in corporate bonds.
The RBI allowed banks to freely offer foreign exchange quotes to non-resident Indians at all times and said trading on rupee derivatives would be allowed and settled in foreign currencies in the International Financial Services Centers (IFSCs). In June 2020, the RBI allowed foreign branches of Indian banks and branches located in the IFSC to participate in the NDF. With the rupee trading volume in the offshore market higher than the onshore market, RBI felt the need to limit the impact of the NDF market and curb volatility in the movement of the rupee.
The International Financial Services Centre at Gujarat International Financial Tech-City (GIFT City) in Gujarat is being developed to compete with global financial hubs. The BSE was the first to start operations there, in January 2016. NSE domestic banks and foreign banks have started IFSC banking units in GIFT city. As part of its Budget 2020 proposal, the government proposed establishing an international bullion exchange at IFSC, which would lead to better price discovery of gold, create more jobs, and enhance India’s position in such markets.
Money and Banking System
The public sector remains predominant in the banking sector, with public sector banks (PSBs) accounting for about 66 percent of total banking sector assets. However, the share of public banks has fallen sharply in the last five years (from 74.2 percent in 2015 to 59.8 percent in 2020), primarily driven by stressed balance sheets and non-performing loans. Also, several new licenses were granted to private financial entities (two new universal bank licenses and 10 small finance bank licenses) in the past few years. The government announced plans in 2021 to privatize two PSBs. This follows Indian authorities consolidating 10 public sector banks into four in 2019, which reduced the total number of public sector banks from 18 to 12. Although most large PSBs are listed on exchanges, the government’s stakes in these banks often exceeds the 51 percent legal minimum. Aside from the large number of state-owned banks, directed lending and mandatory holdings of government paper are key facets of the banking sector. The RBI requires commercial banks and foreign banks with more than 20 branches to allocate 40 percent of their loans to priority sectors which include agriculture, small and medium enterprises, export-oriented companies, and social infrastructure. Additionally, all banks are required to invest 18 percent of their net demand and time liabilities in government securities.
PSBs continue to face two significant hurdles: capital constraints and poor asset quality. As of September 2020, gross non-performing loans represented 7.5 percent of total loans in the banking system, with the public sector banks having a larger share at 9.7 percent of their loan portfolio. The PSBs’ asset quality deterioration in recent years has been driven by their exposure to a broad range of industrial sectors including infrastructure, metals and mining, textiles, and aviation. The COVID-19 crisis further exacerbated the stress, with NPAs likely to rise as the forbearance period ends. The government announced its intention to set up an asset reconstruction company to take over legacy stressed assets from bank balance sheets. With IBC in place, banks were making progress in non-performing asset recognition and resolution. However, the IBC Code was suspended following the onset of COVID-19 through March 2021 to help businesses cope with the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic.
To address asset quality challenges faced by public sector banks, the government injected $32 billion into public sector banks in recent years. The capitalization largely aimed to address the capital inadequacy of public sector banks and marginally provide for growth capital. Following the recapitalization, public sector banks’ total capital adequacy ratio (CAR) improved to 13.5 percent in September 2020 from 12.9 in March 2020.
Women in the Financial Sector
Women’s lack of sufficient access to finance remained a major impediment to women’s entrepreneurship and participation in the workforce. According to experts, women are more likely than men to lack financial awareness, confidence to approach a financial institution, or possess adequate collateral, often leaving them vulnerable to poor terms of finance. Despite legal protections against discrimination, some banks reportedly remained unwelcoming towards women as customers. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) analysts described Indian women-led Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) as a large but untapped market that has a total finance requirement of $29 billion (72 percent for working capital). However, 70 percent of this demand remained unmet, creating a shortfall of $20 billion. The IFC argued that financial institutions should view this market as a compelling, profitable business segment, not corporate social responsibility or charitable activity.
The government-affiliated think tank NITI Aayog provides information on networking, mentorship, and financing to more than 18,000 members via its Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP). The WEP was launched in March 2018, following the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, that India hosted in partnership with the United States, focused on “Women First and Prosperity for All.” The GOI’s financial inclusion scheme Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) provides universal access to banking facilities with at least one basic banking account for every adult, financial literacy, access to credit, insurance, and pension. As of March 3, 2021, 233 million out of 420 million beneficiaries are women (55 percent.) In 2015, the Modi government started the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Ltd. (MUDRA), which supports the development of micro-enterprises. The initiative encourages women’s participation and offers collateral-free loans of around $15,000 — 70 percent of the beneficiaries are women.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The RBI, under the Liberalized Remittance Scheme, allows individuals to remit up to $250,000 per fiscal year (April-March) out of the country for permitted current account transactions (private visit, gift/donation, going abroad on employment, emigration, maintenance of close relatives abroad, business trip, medical treatment abroad, studies abroad) and certain capital account transactions (opening of foreign currency account abroad with a bank, purchase of property abroad, making investments abroad, setting up Wholly Owned Subsidiaries and Joint Ventures outside of India, extending loans). The Indian Rupee or INR is fully convertible only in current account transactions, as regulated under the Foreign Exchange Management Act regulations of 2000 ( https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/Fema.aspx ).
Foreign exchange withdrawal is prohibited for remittance of lottery winnings; income from racing, riding or any other hobby; purchase of lottery tickets, banned or proscribed magazines; football pools and sweepstakes; payment of commission on exports made towards equity investment in Joint Ventures or Wholly Owned Subsidiaries of Indian companies abroad; and remittance of interest income on funds held in a Non-Resident Special Rupee Scheme Account ( https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_ViewMasDirections.aspx?id=10193#sdi ). Furthermore, the following transactions require the approval of the Central Government: cultural tours; remittance of hiring charges for transponders for television channels under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and Internet Service Providers under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology; remittance of prize money and sponsorship of sports activity abroad if the amount involved exceeds $100,000; advertisement in foreign print media for purposes other than promotion of tourism, foreign investments and international bidding (over $10,000) by a state government and its public sector undertakings (PSUs); and multi-modal transport operators paying remittances to their agents abroad. RBI approval is required for acquiring foreign currency above certain limits for specific purposes including remittances for: maintenance of close relatives abroad; any consultancy services; funds exceeding 5 percent of investment brought into India or $100,000, whichever is higher, by an entity in India by way of reimbursement of pre-incorporation expenses.
Capital account transactions are open to foreign investors, though subject to various clearances. Non-resident Indian investment in real estate, remittance of proceeds from the sale of assets, and remittance of proceeds from the sale of shares may be subject to approval by the RBI or FIPB.
FIIs may transfer funds from INR to foreign currency accounts and back at market exchange rates. They may also repatriate capital, capital gains, dividends, interest income, and compensation from the sale of rights offerings without RBI approval. The RBI also authorizes automatic approval to Indian industry for payments associated with foreign collaboration agreements, royalties, and lump sum fees for technology transfer, and payments for the use of trademarks and brand names. Royalties and lump sum payments are taxed at 10 percent.
The RBI has periodically released guidelines to all banks, financial institutions, NBFCs, and payment system providers regarding Know Your Customer (KYC) and reporting requirements under Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)/Common Reporting Standards (CRS). The government’s July 7, 2015 notification ( https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/content/pdfs/CKYCR2611215_AN.pdf ) amended the Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Rules, 2005, (Rules), for setting up of the Central KYC Records Registry (CKYCR)—a registry to receive, store, safeguard and retrieve the KYC records in digital form of clients.
Remittances are permitted on all investments and profits earned by foreign companies in India once taxes have been paid. Nonetheless, certain sectors are subject to special conditions, including construction, development projects, and defense, wherein the foreign investment is subject to a lock-in period. Profits and dividend remittances as current account transactions are permitted without RBI approval following payment of a dividend distribution tax.
Foreign banks may remit profits and surpluses to their headquarters, subject to compliance with the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. Banks are permitted to offer foreign currency-INR swaps without limits for the purpose of hedging customers’ foreign currency liabilities. They may also offer forward coverage to non-resident entities on FDI deployed since 1993.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
In 2016 the Indian government established the National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), touted as India’s first sovereign wealth fund to promote investments in the infrastructure sector. The government agreed to contribute $3 billion to the fund, while an additional $3 billion will be raised from the private sector primarily from sovereign wealth funds, multilateral agencies, endowment funds, pension funds, insurers, and foreign central banks. In December 2020, NIIF officially closed the Master Fund with $2.34 billion in commitments from other Sovereign Wealth Funds and global pension funds. The NIIF Master Fund is focused on investing in core infrastructure sectors including transportation, energy, and urban infrastructure.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The government owns or controls interests in key sectors with significant economic impact, including infrastructure, oil, gas, mining, and manufacturing. The Department of Public Enterprises ( http://dpe.gov.in ) controls and formulates all the policies pertaining to SOEs and is headed by a minister to whom the senior management reports. The Comptroller and Auditor General audits the SOEs. The government has taken several steps to improve the performance of SOEs, also called Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), including improvements to corporate governance. This was necessary as the government planned to disinvest its stake from these entities. All the CPSE’s are listed on stock exchanges as the government partially divested its equity from these entities.
According to the Public Enterprise Survey 2018-19, as of March 2019 there were 348 central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) with a total investment of $234 billion, of which 248 are operating CPSEs. The report puts the number of profit-making CPSEs at 178, while 70 CPSEs were incurring losses.
Foreign investments are allowed in CPSEs in all sectors. The Master List of CPSEs can be accessed at http://www.bsepsu.com/list-cpse.asp. While the CPSEs face the same tax burden as the private sector, on issues like procurement of land they receive streamlined licensing that private sector enterprises do not.
Despite the financial upside to disinvestment in loss-making SOEs, the government has not generally privatized its assets as they have led to job losses in the past, and therefore engendered political risks. Instead, the government adopted a gradual disinvestment policy that dilutes government stakes in public enterprises without sacrificing control. Such disinvestment has been undertaken both as fiscal support and as a means of improving the efficiency of SOEs.
In the FY 2021-22 budget, however, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveiled a new Disinvestment/Strategic Disinvestment Policy detailing the government’s intent to privatize most state-owned companies in a phased manner. A few sectors were categorized as strategic sectors where the government plans to maintain a minimal presence. The budget established a disinvestment target of $24 billion for FY2021-22 after disinvestments planned for the prior fiscal year were not completed, many of which the government claimed were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Foreign institutional investors can participate in the disinvestment programs. The earlier limits for foreign investors were 24 percent of the paid-up capital of the Indian company and 10 percent for non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin. In the case of public sector banks, the limit is 20 percent of the paid-up capital. For many SOEs there is no bidding process as the shares of the entities being disinvested are sold in the open market. Certain SOEs, however, such as Air India are subject to a structure bidding process.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Among Indian companies there is a general awareness of standards for responsible business conduct. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) administers the Companies Act of 2013 and is responsible for regulating the corporate sector in accordance with the law. The MCA is also responsible for protecting the interests of consumers by ensuring competitive markets.
The Companies Act of 2013 also established the framework for India’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) laws. While the CSR obligations are mandated by law, non-government organizations (NGOs) in India also track CSR activities and provide recommendations in some cases for effective use of CSR funds. MCA released the National Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct, 2018 (NGRBC) on March 13, 2019 to improve the 2011 National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental & Economic Responsibilities of Business. The NGRBC aligned with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs).
Per the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, corporations used all or most of their CSR money in 2020 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, be it through contributions to the PM CARES Fund or other relief funds; distribution of food, masks, personal protective equipment (PPE) kits; or providing relief material to the needy. About $1 billion was spent during March-May 2020 that was classified as CSR. The tally of eligible companies that spent on CSR in FY 2019 and duly reported it rose to 1,276, compared with 1,246 the previous fiscal and their total CSR spend increased by around 14 percent year on year. Over two-thirds of these spent 2 percent or more of their net profits. (Note: The Companies Act, 2013 mandates that companies spend an average of 2 percent of their average net profit of the preceding three fiscal years. End Note).
India does not adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. There are provisions to promote responsible business conduct throughout the supply chain.
India is not a member of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) nor is it a member of Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
Department of State
Department of Labor
India is a signatory to the United Nation’s Conventions Against Corruption and is a member of the G20 Working Group against corruption. India, with a score of 40, ranked 86 among 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index.
Corruption is addressed by the following laws: The Companies Act, 2013; the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002; the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; the Code of Criminal Procedures, 1973; the Indian Contract Act, 1872; and the Indian Penal Code of 1860. Anti- corruption laws amended since 2004 have granted additional powers to vigilance departments in government ministries at the central and state levels and elevated the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to be a statutory body. In addition, the Comptroller and Auditor General is charged with performing audits on public-private-partnership contracts in the infrastructure sector based on allegations of revenue loss to the exchequer.
Other statutes approved by parliament to tackle corruption include:
The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act of 2016
The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016, enacted in 2017
The Whistleblower Protection Act, 2011 was passed in 2014 but has yet to be operationalized
The Companies Act of 2013 established rules related to corruption in the private sector by mandating mechanisms for the protection of whistle blowers, industry codes of conduct, and the appointment of independent directors to company boards. However, the government has not established any monitoring mechanism, and it is unclear the extent to which these protections have been instituted. No legislation focuses particularly on the protection of NGOs working on corruption issues, though the Whistleblowers Protection Act of 2011 may afford some protection once implemented.
In 2013, Parliament enacted the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, which created a national anti- corruption ombudsman and required states to create state-level ombudsmen within one year of the law’s passage. A national ombudsman was finally appointed in March 2019.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
India is a signatory to the United Nations Conventions against Corruption and is a member of the G20 Working Group against Corruption. India is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.
The Indian chapter of Transparency International was closed in 2019.
Resources to Report Corruption at the Embassy
Economic Growth Unit Chief U.S. Embassy New Delhi Shantipath, Chanakyapuri New Delhi +91 11 2419 8000 email@example.com
10. Political and Security Environment
India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. National parliamentary elections are held every five years. Under the constitution, the country’s 28 states and eight union territories have a high degree of autonomy and have primary responsibility for law and order. Electors chose President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to serve a five-year term. Following the May 2019 national elections, Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) received a larger majority in the lower house of Parliament, or Lok Sabha, than it had won in the 2014 elections and returning Modi for a second term as prime minister. Observers considered the parliamentary elections, which included more than 600 million voters, to be free and fair, although there were reports of isolated instances of violence.
The government’s first 100 days of its second term were marked by two controversial decisions. The removal of special constitutional status from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Protests followed the enactment of the CAA but ended with the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 and the imposition of a strict national lockdown. The management of COVID-19 became the dominant issue in 2020 including the drop in economic activity and by December 2020, economic activity started to show signs of positive growth. The BJP-led government has faced some criticism for its response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
Travelers to India are invited to visit the U.S. Department of State travel advisory website at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/india.html for the latest information and travel resources.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Although there are more than 20 million unionized workers in India, unions still represent less than 5 percent of the total work force. Most of these unions are linked to political parties. Unions are typically strong in state-owned enterprises. A majority of the unionized work force can be found in the railroads, port and dock, banking, and insurance sectors. According to provisional figures form the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE), over 1.74 million workdays were lost to strikes and lockouts during 2018. Labor unrest occurs throughout India, though the reasons and affected sectors vary widely. A majority of the labor problems are the result of workplace disagreements over pay, working conditions, and union representation.
In an effort to reduce the number of labor related statutes, the Indian parliament passed the Code on Wages in 2019. During 2020, the parliament passed the Industrial Relations Code; the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code; and the Code on Social Security. Along with the 2019 Code on Wages, the four codes harmonize and simplify India’s 29 existing labor laws with the aim of improving the business environment for both industry and workers. The changes expanded the potential use of contract labor, raised the threshold for small and medium sized enterprise exemptions from 100 to 300 employees, and expanded minimum wage and social security coverage to informal sector workers in agriculture and the growing gig economy, and gave employers greater hiring and firing flexibility. Details of the laws approved by parliament can be accessed at https://labour.gov.in/labour-law-reforms .
In March 2017, the Maternity Benefits Act was amended to increase the paid maternity leave for women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. The amendment also made it mandatory for all industrial establishments employing 50 or more workers to have a creche for babies to enable nursing mothers to feed the child up to 4 times in a day.
In August 2016, the Child Labor Act was amended establishing a minimum age of 14 years for work and 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work. In December 2016, the government promulgated legislation enabling employers to pay worker salaries through checks or e-payment in addition to the prevailing practice of cash payment.
There are no reliable unemployment statistics for India due to the informal nature of most employment. During the COVID-19 pandemic experts claimed the unemployment rate spiraled as people in the informal sector lost their jobs. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reported that the average unemployment in the April-June period of 2020 was around 24 percent. during a stringent national lockdown imposed in response to COVID-19. As the lockdown was eased, CMIE estimated the unemployment rate during the August-October period improved to around 7.9 percent.
The government has acknowledged a shortage of skilled labor in high-growth sectors of the economy, including information technology and manufacturing. In response, the government established a Ministry of Skill Development and embarked on a national program to increase skilled labor.
12. DFC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The United States and India signed an Investment Incentive Agreement in 1997. This agreement covered the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and its successor agency, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). The DFC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, launched in December 2019, to incorporate OPIC’s programs as well as the Direct Credit Authority of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since 1974 the DFC (under its predecessor agency, OPIC) has provided support to over 200 projects in India in the form of loans, investment funds, and political risk insurance.
As of March 2021, DFC’s current outstanding portfolio in India comprised more than $2.5 billion across 50 projects. These commitments were concentrated in renewable energy, financial services (including microfinance), and impact investments that include agribusiness and healthcare.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Cumulative FDI April 2000 to December 2020
(in USD million)
|Total Inward 521,468
Source: Inward FDI DIPP, Ministry of Commerce and Industry
Outward investments from India (April – November 2020)
(in USD millions)
|Total Outward 12,250
|British Virgin Islands 1,370
14. Contact for More Information
Economic Growth Unit Chief
U.S. Embassy New Delhi
Shantipath, Chanakyapuri New Delhi
+91 11 2419 8000