Experts CornerPramod Rao

The advent of Covid-19 brought home the fragility of life in a way that none in living memory had considered. Both the first wave and the second wave, and the impending third wave, make it all too clear that taking safeguards (masks, frequent hand wash or use of sanitisers) and precautions (taking both the doses of the vaccine) are all too necessary lest life or health will be in severe jeopardy.

 

It is also a time that compels contemplating taking “precautions” to reduce the impact of what the survivors, successors and legal heirs may face after the death of an individual in relation to personal finances and financial assets of such individuals. Nominations have long been considered the panacea both for the individuals and their survivors/successors, and for the institutions that provide nomination facilities. Another initiative often considered is opting for the joint ownership of financial assets, so that the surviving joint owners can access financial assets notwithstanding untimely demise.

 

Both these approaches serve to bypass the daunting and time-consuming process of obtaining succession certificate or court orders (in case of intestate succession) or probate or letters of administration [in case of the testamentary instrument (will) being available], and to reduce, remove or eliminate submission of cumbersome paperwork for enabling access.

 

Your columnist examines the legal and regulatory regime governing nominations and joint ownership of three popular financial assets and their nuances.

(a) Current accounts, savings accounts and fixed deposits with banks.

(b) Safe custody and safety lockers with banks.

(c) Depository or demat accounts.

(d) Mutual funds holdings.

 


Nomination facility in current accounts, savings accounts and fixed deposits with banks


The aggregate of balances in current and savings accounts, as well as fixed deposits in India stands at Rs 153.1 trillion as of 31-3-2021, and represents a sizable amount of money saved or in transit (to be saved or spent). It also represents the most safe savings instrument (barring rare exceptions) in the country.

 

Nomination facility is encoded in a statutory provision viz. Section 45-ZA of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, added in 1985 to ease the release of deposits to the nominee specified by the depositor upon death of the depositor. The section governs credit balances in savings accounts and current accounts, and to fixed deposits with banks. The norms for access to articles kept in safe custody with banks[1] and safety lockers[2] also follow principles and norms applicable for deposits (unless otherwise noted).

 

Individuals who jointly own and operate bank accounts or deposits are also permitted to make nominations. Nominations can only be made when the deposits are held in an individual capacity, and not in a representative capacity (including as a holder of an office or otherwise).

The forms as prescribed are part of the Banking Companies (Nomination) Rules, 1985.[3]

 

If the nominee is a minor, the depositor can choose while making the nomination to appoint another individual (who is a major), to receive the amounts on behalf of the nominee (during the minority of the nominee) in the event of the death of the depositor.

 

A depositor can vary or cancel the nomination during the tenure of the deposit. Banks are required to provide acknowledgment of nominations to the depositor, and register the nomination, cancellation or variation in its records.

 

The key benefit that nominations provide to banks is that they receive a full discharge of the liability in respect of the deposit on making payment of the monies to the nominee[4].

 

It is important to note that while the nominee is legally entitled to receive the money from the bank, the nominee does not constitute the successor or inheritor of such sums. The successors or legal heirs (either in terms of the will executed by the depositor, or as per the personal laws of succession governing the depositor who dies intestate) are entitled to claim their rightful share from the nominee[5].

 

Many a time one sees claimants (claiming to be legal heirs or successors of a deceased depositor) serve notice of their claim or interest to the bank. As such[6], a bank is not bound to receive such notice nor is bound by such notice even when it has been expressly delivered to it. Only and only if a decree, order, certificate or other authority from a court of competent jurisdiction relating to such deposit is notified or served on the bank, is the bank required to take due note of such decree, order, certificate or other authority[7].

 

Table 1: Current and savings accounts, fixed deposits, safe custody and safety lockers

In the event of: Transmission in favour of:
Nomination provided Nomination not provided
Death of single holder Nominee Legal heirs (as per succession certificate/probate/letters of administration)
Death of one of the joint holders Surviving joint holder(s) Surviving joint holder(s)
Death of all the joint holders Nominee Legal heirs (as per succession certificate/probate/letters of administration)

 

A further element which bears consideration is that in terms of the current law, the nomination by a bank depositor is limited to a single individual[8]. This is in contrast to several other financial assets which permit multiple nominees and/or even specification of allocation (in percentages) among such multiple nominees.

 

Hence, it appears that almost by design the bank or the nominee, or both could be placed in a situation of having to deal with the legal heirs, successors and claimants, and which could also lead to litigious situations.

 

It is your columnist’s view that Section 45-ZA of the Banking Regulation Act (and consequently the Rules thereunder) should be amended to facilitate depositors being able to specify multiple nominees (together with percentage allocation of the money among them). This would help bank deposits keep pace with the approach adopted for other financial assets. Such a change would allow the depositors to specify, as far as possible, their legal heirs as nominees together with the percentage allocation among them. It would help reduce or remove possible friction and burden that the nominee carries in having to deal with the legal heirs, successors and claimants.

 

A separate thought is for banks to facilitate nominations being done on their internet banking sites or mobile banking apps. There has been a (mis)apprehension on account of the prescribed forms requiring signatures (construed as wet or physical signatures): this has led to banks hesitating in digitalisation of the nomination process.

 

In fact, the provisions of the Information Technology Act of 2000 and the various mechanisms specified therein for concluding contracts, can extend to the nomination forms being completed and submitted through authenticated means (such as internet banking or mobile banking apps) and will be legal, valid and effective (just as the transactions conducted over such internet banking sites or mobile banking apps). Adoption of such means – Aadhaar-based eSign, or OTP-based confirmation or simply undertaking the nomination after authentication of credentials of the internet banking site or mobile banking app – would also mean that requirement of witness if any can be dispensed with.

 

In respect of articles kept in safe custody or kept in the safety lockers, one item worthy to call out as a difference (from treatment of deposits) is that the bank, before returning any articles to the nominee or prior to removal of contents of the safety locker by the nominee, is required to prepare an inventory of such articles. The nominee is required to sign a copy of such inventory, and is entitled to receive a copy of the inventory.

 


Joint ownership and operation of current and savings accounts, fixed deposits, articles in safe custody and safety locker


Almost all financial assets are capable of joint ownership. One critical aspect, especially relevant for ease of access to financial assets, is the treatment of joint ownership and of joint operation of such financial assets on the death of one of the joint owners.

 

One key benefit is the rule of survivorship, which specifies that the surviving joint owners get the legal title to the asset. It would of course beg the question then why is nomination permitted and encouraged for jointly owned accounts: it is for the remote contingency of all the joint holders perishing simultaneously or together, that nomination becomes relevant.

 

In terms of practicality, in case of current or savings accounts, it is the mode of operation which also determines the ease.

 

For instance, specifying “either or survivor” or “anyone or survivor” enables any one of the account holders jointly owning an account to access the account even upon death of any of the account holder/s. Specifying “former or survivor” allows the first account holder to operate the account during her lifetime and upon her death, the survivor to operate the account. “Latter or survivor” works in pretty much similar way, where the second account holder operates the account in her lifetime and upon her death, the first account holder can operate the account.

 

If however, the mode of operation has been specified as joint, then it requires all account holders during their lifetime to jointly provide the instructions or sign cheques. Upon death of one of the account holders, the right to operate such a joint account will stand revoked or suspended. Such surviving account holders would need to establish a separate account to receive the proceeds from the joint account.

 

Accordingly, the choice of mode of operation is highly important, and certain choices, as above, can provide ease of access to the survivors and allow the continuing operation of an account upon death of one of the account holders.

 

In terms of the rule of survivorship, the surviving account holders (under all modes of operation) get a legal title to the balance in the account, and the bank gets a good discharge from such surviving account holders.[9] Nomination, if any made, for such joint accounts has no relevance, unless all the joint account holders are no more.

 

It is all too necessary to call out that just as in the case of nominees, while the surviving account holder/s are legally entitled to receive the money from the bank, the survivors may not constitute the successors or inheritors of such sums. The successors or legal heirs (either in terms of the will executed by the deceased account holder, or as per the personal laws of succession governing the deceased who dies intestate and subject to the arrangements among the joint holders) are entitled to claim their rightful share from the survivors[10].

 

It is your columnist’s view that the choices in the mode of operation that bank accounts provide is worthy of emulation across other financial assets. Several of the financial assets straitjacket the joint ownership, and hinder the ease of access to joint owners and survivors.

 

Summary of reforms recommended for current accounts, savings accounts, fixed deposits, articles in safe custody and safety lockers

Permit multiple nominees (doing away with current limitation of one nominee).
Permit specification of allocation of percentage of among multiple nominees.
Facilitate e-nominations (over internet banking or mobile banking apps).
Placing a deadline for all holders of current accounts/savings accounts/fixed deposits that are presently without nominations to provide nominations.

Nomination facility in depository or demat accounts


 

With a growing number of investors in the equity markets, or those holding bonds and debentures or even sovereign gold bonds, having a depository account (more popularly referred to as “demat account”) with a depository participant (which in turn are linked to either of the two securities depositories[11] licensed by the Securities and Exchange Board of India SEBI) is a given. The total count of demat accounts stood at 55 million plus as of 31-3-2021[12], with Rs 518.83 trillion constituting the total value of securities held in such demat accounts.

 

Nomination is possible for demat accounts. There is flexibility to specify up to three nominees, and in case of multiple nominees, the demat account holder/s can specify the percentage of share of each nominee. In the event percentage allocation is not specified, the presumption of equal division among the nominees applies.

 

Individuals who jointly own demat accounts are also permitted to make nominations. Nominations can be made only by individuals, and only individuals/natural persons can be specified as nominees[13].

 

A minor can be a nominee, subject to the name and address of the guardian being provided.

 

The prescribed forms require photographs of the nominee and other details to help identify and give effect to the nomination. Additionally, the form requires a witness for nomination.

Nominations can be varied or cancelled and fresh nominations made.

 

The key benefit that nominations provide to depositories and depository participants is that they receive a full discharge of the liability upon the transmission of the securities balances in the demat account to the nominee.

 

It is important to note that while the nominee is legally entitled to receive the transmission of the securities balance in the demat account, the nominee does not constitute the successor or inheritor of such securities. The successors or legal heirs (either in terms of the will executed by the demat account holder, or as per the personal laws of succession governing the demat account holder who dies intestate) are entitled to claim their rightful share from the nominee[14].

 

Table 2: Depository or demat accounts

In the event of: Transmission in favour of:
Nomination provided Nomination not provided
Death of single holder Nominee(s) Legal heirs (as per succession certificate/probate/letters of administration)
Death of one of the joint holders Surviving joint holder(s) Surviving joint holder(s)
Death of all the joint holders Nominee(s) Legal heirs (as per succession certificate/probate/letters of administration)

 

As can be noted, the demat accounts permit more than one nominee (though imposes a limit of three nominees). It permits percentage allocation among the nominees for all the securities held in demat account (in the aggregate and not individually).

 

One reform to consider would be to do away with the limitation of three nominees. It would facilitate demat account holders being able to specify multiple nominees without limitation (while continuing with the percentage allocation of the money among them). Such a change would allow the demat account holders to specify, as far as possible, their legal heirs as nominees together with the percentage allocation among them. It would help reduce or remove possible friction and burden that the nominees carry in having to deal with the legal heirs, successors and claimants. Nonetheless, flexibility of having up to three nominees is certainly better than one.

 

Another limitation is the manner in which nominations along with the percentage allocations takes effect: such nominations and allocations apply across the securities balances held in the demat account, and securities-wise nominations or allocation are not currently possible. Hence, if there are multiple sets of shares and securities held, the nomination and percentage allocation uniformly cuts across all the shares and securities. A potential reform to consider is facilitating nominations and percentage allocation at the level of each security held in the demat account. Such a possibility, it must be noted, exists for physical shares and securities.

 

A few recent changes[15] that have been made by SEBI which regulates depositories and depository participants that provide demat accounts, in respect of nomination, are important to consider:

 

  • On and from 1-10-2021, investors opening new demat accounts have a choice of providing nomination or opting out of making a nomination. Due formats have been prescribed for either course, and for changes to or cancellation of nominations made.

Indeed, while the regulator has provided a choice of making nomination or opting out of making a nomination, it is your columnist’s view that it would be particularly foolish and indeed downright mean for demat account holders to not use the nomination facility. It would leave the survivors and successors facing a needless, time-consuming and daunting process of obtaining a succession certificate or court orders (in case of intestate succession) or probate or letters of administration, with attendant costs and efforts. Having chosen to invest and open a demat account, it would be prudent and practical to utilise the nomination facility.

  • All existing eligible demat account holders are required to make a choice of providing nomination or opting out of making a nomination on or before 31-3-2022, failing which no debits can be made to the demat account, effectively freezing trading of securities held therein.

Such a missive is a much-needed measure. Lack of nomination impacts both the survivors, successors and inheritors as well as the depositories and depository participants. Both bear the burden of having to arrange for (and receive) duly notarised copy of succession certificate or an order of a court of competent jurisdiction (when the demat account holder has not left a will) or duly notarised copy of probate or letter of administration (when the demat account holder did execute a will). Either course is a daunting court process, which the survivors, successors or inheritors face. For the depositories and depository participants, when there is no nomination, then good discharge can be achieved only by receiving such documents.

  • A key change has been dispensing with the witnessing of the nomination form in the following circumstances:

(a) Nomination form signed under wet signature of the demat account holders.

(b) Online nomination form signed using e-Sign facility.

Witness signature is however required when the demat account holders affix thumb impression (in lieu of signatures).

It is your columnist’s view that such a measure is quite laudatory and appreciable: it removes the friction of the depository participant or the investor having to arrange for an independent witness, and provides due privacy to investors affixing wet signatures or using e-Sign facility. In respect of investors affixing thumb impressions, perhaps if could be nudged instead to use e-Sign facility (which also relies on biometric identification), would also have the same benefit. Notably, most other financial assets also do not require witnessing of the nomination form and this measure brings demat accounts in line with the same.

 


Joint ownership and operation of demat accounts


Individuals can jointly own demat accounts, subject to a limit of three joint owners. A minor cannot be one of the joint owners[16].

 

In keeping with the recommendation of lifting the limit of number of nominees, it would be appropriate to also recommend lifting the limit of number of joint owners of a demat account.

 

In case of death of any one joint owner, the rule of survivorship will be applicable. To briefly recap, this means that the surviving joint owners get the legal title to the balances in the demat account. It is noted that while the surviving account holder/s are legally entitled to receive the securities balances in the demat account, the survivors may not constitute the successors or inheritors of such securities. The successors or legal heirs (either in terms of the will executed by the deceased demat account holder, or as per the personal laws of succession governing the deceased who dies intestate and subject to the arrangements among the joint holders) are entitled to claim their rightful share from the survivors[17].

 

When the surviving demat account holders provide a notarised death certificate of the deceased account holder, the depository participant would proceed to freeze the demat account, and transmit the balances to the demat account of the surviving demat account holders.

 

This presumably preserves the record of holdings, transactions and of the demat account holders (including the deceased account holder) in the records of the depository, and fresh records are created for the surviving demat account holders and their transactions.

 

This perhaps is a key difference between joint bank accounts and joint demat accounts: the former is a running account, capable of being operated (subject to the mode of operation) even upon the demise of one of the joint holders, while the demat account is closed upon death of one of the joint holders. A reform worthy of consideration is treating the demat account as a running account, the way bank accounts are: so demise of a joint owner should not mean closure of the demat account (with attendant transmission of the balances to the demat account of the surviving demat account holders). Rather, the surviving demat account holders should be allowed to continue operations in the same demat account.

 

Jointly owned demat accounts also have a very limited scope on mode of operation: the depositories require that all joint holders authorise the transactions.

 

Practically, the first holder or main holder could be conducting the transactions, especially in case of online transactions. Additionally, reliance is possibly placed on a letter of authority or power of attorney given by all the joint owners of the demat account holders.

 

As mentioned earlier, the multiple choices in the mode of operations that bank accounts provide is worthy of emulation for demat accounts. Limiting the mode of operation to only jointly by all the demat account holders, and allowing practices to develop wherein parties rely upon a letter of authority or a power of attorney from all the demat account holders can be thought of as an inefficient and poor workaround. Rather, just as banks facilitate different types of modes of operations, the two depositories could upgrade their systems to provide the same or similar facility.

 

Summary of reforms recommended for depository or demat accounts

Permit multiple nominees (doing away with current limitation of three nominees).
Permit ability to specify nominations and percentage allocation at the level of each security held in the demat account (from current account level nomination and allocation being feasible).
Removal of choice of opting out from making nomination.
Permit multiple joint owners (doing away with current limitation of three joint owners).
Permitting jointly held demat accounts to become a running account by surviving demat account holders after the death of one of the joint holders (doing away with closure of demat account and transfer of balances to demat account held by surviving holders).
Permitting multiple modes of operation for jointly held demat accounts

(either or survivor, anyone or survivor, former or survivor, latter or survivor, joint).


Nomination facility in mutual funds


 

Investments in mutual fund schemes have grown by leaps and bounds, and particularly post demonetisation. The current corpus under management of mutual funds is at Rs 31.4 trillion as on 31-3-2021.

 

Nomination is possible for mutual fund holdings. Nomination made by a mutual fund investor is applicable for units held in all the schemes under the respective folio/account and gets rescinded on redemption of such units or its transfer.

 

There is flexibility to specify up to three nominees, and in case of multiple nominees, the mutual fund investor can specify the percentage of share of each nominee with such allocation/share being required to be in whole numbers without any decimal. In the event percentage allocation is not specified, the presumption of equal division among the nominees applies.

 

Individuals who are joint investors in mutual fund (irrespective of the mode of operation) are also permitted to make nominations, being required to do so jointly.

 

Nominations can be made only by individuals. Non-individuals including a society, trust, body corporate, partnership firm, karta of Hindu Undivided Family, a power-of-attorney holder and/or guardian of minor mutual fund investor cannot nominate.

 

Nominations can be in favour of individuals/natural persons, and also the Central Government, State Government, a local authority, any person designated by virtue of his/her office or a religious or charitable trust can be specified as nominees. This is an expanded set of eligible nominees (distinct from nominations permitted for bank accounts or demat accounts).

 

A minor can be a nominee, subject to the name and address of the guardian being provided.

 

Nominations can be varied or cancelled, and fresh nominations made.

 

Uniquely, there is a specification of consequences in case of death of a nominee. In the event of the nominee(s) predeceasing the mutual fund investor(s), the nomination is automatically cancelled. In case of multiple nominations, if any of the nominee is deceased at the time of claim settlement, that nominee’s share would be distributed equally amongst the surviving nominees.

 

Transmission of units in favour of the nominee(s) constitutes valid discharge of the asset management company, the trustee company and the mutual fund. It is important to note that while the nominee is legally entitled to receive the units, the nominee does not constitute the successor or inheritor of such units. The successors or legal heirs (either in terms of the will executed by the mutual fund investor, or as per the personal laws of succession governing the mutual fund investor who dies intestate) are entitled to claim their rightful share from the nominee[18].

 

To claim the units after the death of a unit holder, the nominee has to complete the necessary formalities, such as completion of KYC process, along with proof of death of the unit holder, signature of the nominee duly attested, furnishing of proof of guardianship in case the nominee is a minor, and such other document as may be required for transmitting the units in favour of the nominee(s)[19]. One key element, which appears to be excessive or contributing to avoidable friction is requirement of attestation of nominee’s signatures. When the transmission amount is up to Rs 2 lakhs, the attestation by a Bank Manager is required in a prescribed form, and when the transmission amount is more than Rs 2 lakhs, the attestation by a notary public or a Judicial Magistrate, First Class (JMFC) is required. Attestation requirements also extend to various documents including bank passbook/bank statement, death certificate and so on, all of which appear excessive and could be dispensed with.

 

It is also important to note that when units in mutual fund schemes are held in a depository or a demat account, the nomination details provided to the depository/depository participants will be applicable to such units and govern the transmission.

Table 3: Mutual fund folios/accounts

In the event of: Transmission in favour of:
Nomination provided Nomination not provided
Death of single holder Nominee(s) Legal heirs (as per succession certificate/probate/letters of administration)
Death of one of the joint holders Surviving joint holder(s) Surviving joint holder(s)
Death of all the joint holders Nominee(s) Legal heirs (as per succession certificate/probate/letters of administration)

 

As can be noted, the mutual funds permit more than one nominee (though imposes a limit of three nominees). It permits percentage allocation among the nominees for the units held in the folio/account (in the aggregate and not individually).

 

One reform to consider would be to do away with the limitation of three nominees. It would facilitate mutual fund investors being able to specify multiple nominees without limitation (while continuing with the percentage allocation of the money among them). Such a change would allow the mutual fund investors to specify, as far as possible, their legal heirs as nominees together with the percentage allocation among them. It would help reduce or remove possible friction and burden that the nominees carry in having to deal with the legal heirs, successors and claimants. Nonetheless, flexibility of having up to three nominees is certainly better than one.

 

One further reform to consider is doing away with a choice not to furnish a nomination. As previously noted, it is your columnist’s view that it would be particularly foolish and indeed downright mean for mutual fund investors to not use the nomination facility. It would leave the survivors and successors facing a needless, time-consuming and daunting process of obtaining a succession certificate or court orders (in case of intestate succession) or probate or letters of administration, with attendant costs and efforts. Having chosen to invest and create assets in form of units of mutual fund schemes, it would be prudent and practical to utilise the nomination facility.

 

Finally, enabling e-nomination facilities could greatly boost specifying nominee(s). Either the mutual fund industry and AMFI – the Association of Mutual Funds in India – could harness the provisions of the Information Technology Act of 2000 and the various mechanisms specified therein for concluding contracts, for completion of the nomination forms and submission through authenticated means and will be legal, valid and effective. Adoption of such means – Aadhaar-based eSign, or OTP-based confirmation or simply undertaking the nomination after authentication of credentials of the internet site or mobile app of the AMC – would also mean that requirement of witness if any can be dispensed with. Alternatively, SEBI could specify e-nomination norms for mutual funds akin to the norms specified for demat accounts.

 


Joint ownership and operation of mutual fund investments


Individuals can jointly own units in mutual fund schemes, subject to a limit of three joint owners.

 

In keeping with the recommendation of lifting the limit of number of nominees, it would be appropriate to also recommend lifting the limit of number of joint owners of units in mutual fund schemes.

 

In case of death of any one joint owner, the rule of survivorship will be applicable. To briefly recap, this means that the surviving joint owners get the legal title to the units of the mutual fund scheme. While the surviving joint holders are legally entitled to the units of the mutual fund scheme, the survivors may not constitute the successors or inheritors of such units. The successors or legal heirs (either in terms of the will executed by the deceased joint holder, or as per the personal laws of succession governing the deceased who dies intestate and subject to the arrangements among the joint holders) are entitled to claim their rightful share from the survivors[20].

 

Akin to bank accounts, the folios/accounts and the units held in such folios/accounts continue to operate without any issue, and only the details of the holders – nominees in case of sole mutual fund investor, or the surviving joint holder/s – get updated.

 

Mutual funds permit “either or survivor” mode of operation when investments are jointly held, thereby providing flexibility for the investors in transacting. The exception is making nominations, which have to be jointly made.

 

Summary of reforms recommended for mutual fund investments

Permit multiple nominees (doing away with current limitation of three nominees).
Removal of choice of opting out from making nomination.
Permit multiple joint owners (doing away with current limitation of three joint owners).
Removal of attestation requirement for signatures of nominees or of documents submitted by nominees regardless of amounts that are to be transmitted.

 


Concluding remarks


As would be appreciated, there are very many similarities (and the differences are less apparent) in the nomination facilities, and joint holdings of financial products. These similarities and differences can have significance for orderly claim by nominee or survivors, and due discharge of the financial institutions. In many senses, the system may be efficacious, but quite tedious, time consuming, and also containing many pain points, friction and overall stressful to the nominees and claimants navigating the process. The financial institutions which have to process such claims also are hidebound to adhere to rules framed in a different era and time, running the risk of not securing due discharge and/or regulatory reprimands or penalties if deviate from such rules.

 

For anyone who has lost a loved one and is coping with an unfamiliar and difficult process, aggravated by the circumstances Covid-19 has brought, if financial sector regulators and financial institutions can consider reforms for further easing the pain, the friction and the efforts that survivors make in accessing the financial assets of the deceased, it would be highly commended and appreciated.

 

Adopting the best features regarding nominations or joint holdings as outlined above for each type of financial product would appear the easiest way forward.

 

Additionally, a few of the limitations – number of joint owners or number of nominees – most likely come from a technology system design perspective, where the record-keeping capability or capacity perhaps acted as the reason for the limits. In case of bank accounts, it is in fact coded into the statute. In real life and for assets such as real estate or physically held securities, such limits do not apply. The technology and systems should accordingly adapt and be upgraded to enable individuals and families to deal with financial assets in the mode, manner and extent that they desire.

 

It is time for society to be fair-minded to its financial consumers and their nominees, successors and survivors at the time they most need solace and support.


†  Group General Counsel at ICICI Bank. His Linkedin profile can be accessed HERE

Disclaimer: Views in this article are his personal views.

*Vanaj Vidyan, student of RMLNLU has assisted in the research of the article.

[1] Governed by S. 45-ZE of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.

[2] Governed by S. 45-ZE of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.

[3] See <HERE>; Vide Noti. No. S.O. 264(E), dated March 29, 1985, published in the Gazette of India, Extra., Part II, S. 3(ii), dated 29th March, 1985, pp. 10-18.

[4] S. 45-ZA(4) of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.

[5] Proviso to S. 45-ZA(4) of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949; also specification in the will that the nominee is the beneficiary can obviate challenges or issues from arising.

[6] S. 45-ZB of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.

[7] Proviso to S. 45-ZB of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.

[8] In case of jointly operated lockers i.e. by two or more individuals jointly, such hirers may nominate one or more persons to whom, in the event of the death of such joint hirer or hirers, the bank may give, jointly with the surviving joint hirer or joint hirers, access to the locker and liberty to remove the contents of such locker.

[9] Banks as such do not take notice of any rival claimants to the monies even if notified though would take note of a decree, order, certificate or other authority from a court of competent jurisdiction relating to such money if is duly notified or served on the bank.

[10] Specification in the will that the joint owners or surviving joint holders are the beneficiaries can obviate challenges or issues from arising.

[11] NSDL: National Securities Depository Ltd., and CDSL: Central Depository Services (India) Ltd.

[12] 55,127,436 as of 31-3-2021 for the detail oriented.

[13] Akin to nominations for bank accounts excluding non-individuals.

[14] Specification in the will that the nominee/s is the beneficiary/ies can obviate challenges or issues from arising.

[15] See <HERE>.

[16] On account of minors incapacity to enter into contracts.

[17] Specification in the will that the joint owners or surviving joint holders are the beneficiaries can obviate challenges or issues from arising; one other potential challenge that should be considered is how the surviving joint holders get along (or do not), and hence segregating securities into distinct demat accounts with one joint holder each could be a better approach (unless securities level nomination is permitted).

[18] Specification in the will that the nominee/s is the beneficiary/ies can obviate challenges or issues from arising.

[19] See Here

[20] Specification in the will that the joint owners or surviving joint holders are the beneficiaries can obviate challenges or issues from arising; one other potential challenge that should be considered is how the surviving joint holders get along (or do not), and hence segregating the mutual fund holdings into distinct folios with one joint holder each could be a better approach.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Orissa High Court: S.K. Panigrahi, J., while addressing a matter with regard to money laundering by way of ponzi schemes, stated that,

“Act of money laundering is done in an exotic fashion encompassing a series of actions by the proverbial renting of credibility from the innocent investors.”

Petitioner has sought bail in a complaint case pending before Sessions Judge, Special Court under PMLA.

Cheating

Case under Sections 406, 420, 468, 471 and 34 of Penal Code and Sections 4, 5 and 6 of Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978 was registered on the basis of a complaint alleging that the complainant had been cheated and defrauded by alluring to invest Rs 10,000 in the attractive investment scheme of Fine Indiasales (P) Ltd.

Complainant further submitted that he had introduced 20 more people to invest in the said scheme.

Complainant neither received the financial product nor the product voucher as per the agreement with FIPL.

FIPL collected huge amounts of money from the public and ultimately duped huge amount from innocent public by giving false assurance of high return for their deposit of money.

In view of the above, complainant requested for an investigation.

FIPL floated a fraudulent scheme

According to the investigation it was found that, FIPL had floated a fraudulent scheme with a terminal ulterior motive to siphon off the funds collected from public.

Ponzi Scheme

The advertised scheme of FIPL, ex-facie appeared to be a bodacious Ponzi scheme, inducing the susceptible depositors by way of misrepresentation, promising immediate refund in case of any default and timely payment of return on the part of FIPL.

Investigation prima facie established that the accused persons connected with  FIPL not only criminally conspired and cheated the depositors but also lured them into the scheme with a rogue mindset.

Machiavellian Layering | Shell Companies

Investigation revealed that the said money, stained with the sweat, tears and blood of multitudes of innocent people has since been moved around and subjected to Machiavellian layering through a myriad of shell companies and bogus transactions.

The collected amount was immediately transferred to different bank accounts of individuals as well as firms under the management and control of the Promotors/Directors/Shareholders of the said FIPL which is nothing but an act of sheltering.

Money Laundering

Modus Operandi adopted while transferring the prodigious sum of ill-gotten wealth with the singular intention of concealing the original source of funds and to project the tainted money as untainted ex facie constitute the offence of money laundering.

Court’s Observation

On the cursory look, Court prima facie observed that dishonesty, untruth and greed eroded the faith of common investors.

One of the significant stages of money laundering is “layering”, and in the present case, multiple use of corporate vehicles was done and the amount was layered further.

The act money laundering involves the process of placement, layering and integration of “proceeds of crime” as envisaged under Section 2 (u) of the Act, derived from criminal activity into mainstream fiscal markets and transmuted into legitimate assets.

“…laundering of tainted money having its origins in large scale economic crimes pose a solemn threat not only to the economic stability of nations but also to their integrity and sovereignty.”

Proceeds of Crime

Petitioner along with others attempted to project the “proceeds of crime” as untainted money by transferring the same to different bank accounts in a bid to camouflage it and project it to be genuine transactions.

Financial Terrorism

Bench added to its analysis that, offence of money laundering is nothing but an act of “financial terrorism” that poses a serious threat not only to the financial system of the country but also to the integrity and sovereignty of a nation.

Supreme Court’s opinion

Supreme Court of India has consistently held that economic offences are sui generis in nature as they stifle the delicate economic fabric of a society.

Faustain bargain

Perpetrators of such deviant “schemes,” including the petitioner in the present case, who promise utopia to their unsuspecting investors seem to have entered in a proverbial “Faustian bargain” and are grossly unmindful of untold miseries of the faceless multitudes who are left high and dry and consigned to the flames of suffering.

Reputational Damage of the Country

Abuse of financial system in the manner that occurred in the present case can inflict the reputation of the country in the world of business and commerce.

Alleged offence of money laundering committed by the petitioner is serious in nature and the petitioner’s role is not unblemished.

Hence, Court refused bail to the accused/petitioner. [Mohammad Arif v. Directorate of Enforcement, Govt. of India, 2020 SCC OnLine Ori 544 , decided on 13-07-2020]


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Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Gujarat High Court: Paresh Upadhyay, J., while addressing a matter with regard to granting bail to the migrant workers who were locked in jails, stated that,

“instead of sending these labourers back to their hometown when they wished to go back due to no money, work and food, they were locked in jails.”

“These migrants are more the victims certainly not criminals.”

Present application was filed for regular bail. He was punishable for the offences under Sections 143, 144, 147, 148, 149, 186, 332, 333, 336, 337, 427 and 188 of Penal Code, 1860 and Section 135(1) of the Gujarat Police Act, Section 3 of Epidemic Act, 1897, Section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act and Section 3(1) and 3(2)(e) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.

Advocates on behalf of the applicants submitted that  of the total 33 applicants, 32 are from the State of Jharkhand and one is from the State of West Bengal.

The stated applicants were migrant workers and in the new lockdown they were all without any work, money and food, thus under the said circumstances they wished to go back to their home which led to an untoward incident.

Since 18-05-2020, applicants are in jail.

“…fit case to exercise the discretion to release the applicants on bail, in exercise of powers under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.”

-High Court

Court noted that instead of sending the above-stated labourers back to their home towns when they were out of money, food and work, they were locked up in the jails.

In view of the above, bench said that,

Applicants are more the victims, certainly not the criminals. Thus, the said applicants immediately needs to be set free on furnishing person bond without any conditions.

Thus, the application has been allowed. [Ravi v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 930, decided on 23-06-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gauhati High Court: A Division Bench of Ajai Lamba, CJ and Soumitra Saikia, J., asked Prashant Dhanda, IFS holding the post of Managing Director, Guwahati Smart City Limited, Kamrup to file a point wise response in the from of an affidavit on the following points:

  1. When grant for making Guwahati a Smart City was received, and how much?
  2. How much money is available as on date with Guwahati Smart City Limited?
  3. How much ground work has been done in Guwahati to set up Master System Integrated Project?
  4. Under the Financial Regulations, which is the quickest transparent mode of inviting service provider for making Guwahati a Smart City?
  5. We have also asked Mr Dhanda to give us inputs as to which cities in the country have been converted into Smart Cities and how are they graded in quality? Who are the service providers for these projects?

Court gave liberty to Mr Dhanda with regard to directly interacting with service providers for cities graded as as smartest in the country and enquire about the mode through which the task was given to them.

Bench was pained,

On observing that Rs 400 Crores was made available to Guwahati Smart City Limited, however, since 2017/2018, no effective work has been done.

Thus Court took judicial notice of the fact that while money is lying unused, city has not been provided with the facilities required under Smart City Projects.

“…value of money has been reduced and, therefore, the public exchequer has been put at a loss.”

Court directed Mr Dhanda to furnish the resolutions passed by Guwahati Smart City Limited.

Court has further been informed that an exercise/survey is being carried by Guwahati Municipal Corporation for de-congesting the crowded market areas.

On the above being completed, report be placed before the Court.

Guwahati Development Department is directed to apprise the Court as to whether all the roads that could possibly be widened have been widened. In case, on account of land constraints roads cannot be widened, whether a plan to provide flyovers has been conceived or not.

Fire Brigade Department and Assam Disaster Management Department are also required to be involved in this exercise, because at a number of places within the city of Guwahati, fire brigades cannot reach.

In case of a mishap, if fire brigade is unable to approach, there can be number of fatality. In such circumstances, such areas be identified by Fire Brigade Department and Assam Disaster Management Department and the Court be apprised.

Matter to be listed on 4th June, 2020. [Rita Das Mozumdar v. State of Assam, 2020 SCC OnLine Gau 2001 , decided on 29-05-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT): Coram of Justice Tarun Agarwala (Presiding Officer), Justice M.T. Joshi (Judicial Member), and Dr C.K.G. Nair (Member), dismissed the appeal filed by the appellant and affirmed the order passed by the Whole Time Member (‘WTM’) of SEBI.

WTM had passed an order against the appellants under Section 11 and 11B of SEBI Act directing them to refund the money collected by the Company during their respective period of directorship through the issuance of Non-Convertible Debentures (‘NCDs’) including the application money collected from investors along with interest at the rate of 15% p.a. The appellants were appointed as directors from 2009 to 2013. During the financial years 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, the Company made an offer of NCDs and raised an amount of Rs. 9.06 crores from 4,518 allottees. Since there was a violation of the SEBI Act, Companies Act, and Securities and Exchange Board of India (Issue and Listing of Debt Securities) Regulations, 2008 (ILDS Regulations), SEBI passed an order of debarment and refund to investors against the Company and its directors/promoters. The appellants were directors of the company during the time when the NCDs were issued. Accordingly, an interim order was passed against the appellants and a show-cause notice was issued to show cause as to why suitable direction under Section 11 and 11B read with Section 73(2) of the Companies Act should not be passed against them. After giving an opportunity of hearing, the WTM found the appellants were involved in the issuance of the offer of NCDs during the time when they were directors which was in violation of the Companies Act and ILDS Regulations. Accordingly, the WTM issued directions for a refund of the money along with interest, etc.

The appellants contended that the said order was erroneous since there was no finding that the appellants were “officers in default” and consequently, the mandate provided under Section 73(2) of the Companies Act cannot be invoked. In support of this submission, the appellants have placed reliance upon Pritha Bag v. SEBI, 2019 SCC OnLine SAT 110.

The Tribunal held that the decision of the Tribunal in Pritha Bag case was not applicable to the facts and circumstances of the present case. The WTM came to the conclusion that the appellants were “officers in default” by relying on the definition as under Section 5(g) of the Companies Act. No evidence was filed to show that any of the officers set out in clauses (a) to (c) of Section 5 of the Companies Act was entrusted to discharge the obligation contained in Section 73 of the Companies Act. In Pritha Bag case, there was no finding that the appellant in that appeal was an “officer in default” and, therefore, the Tribunal had held that the mandate provided under Section 73(2) of the Companies Act could not be invoked. The said decision was also distinguishable on the ground that there was a managing director in that company who was responsible for the affairs of the company. Moreover, on perusal of the impugned order, the appellants had admitted before the WTM that they were aware of the collection of the money from the investors by the company and further submitted that the appellants were willing to make a refund to the investors. In the light of such admission, the appellants could not escape the liability of refund of the amount along with interest as directed by the WTM. [Saikat Brahmachari v. SEBI, 2019 SCC OnLine SAT 200, decided on 14-11-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL): A Division Bench of Manjula Chellur, J. (Member) and S.D. Dubey, (Technical Member) passed an order for implementation of the Tribunal’s order for the payment of the sum of money due with interest.

An application for the implementation of the order was made by the appellant when after a reasonable time the respondent didn’t pay any heed towards the order against them.

Aman Anand, Aman Dixit, counsels for the appellant submitted that the order was received for the payment after increasing the recovery of interim transfer of lignite to 85 percent in place of 70 percent. It was submitted by the appellant that no appeal was pending against the said order. Hence, this application.

R.K. Mehta, Himanshi Andley, P.N. Bhandari, counsels for the respondents, submitted that the matter related to the increase in the tariff was pending in the Commission and that the appellant had rushed to the tribunal prematurely in order to prejudice the pending decision of the Commission.

The Tribunal after submission by the parties held that although the matter is pending in the Commission the payment due is for the previous year and thus the same is to be made by the respondent as per the order of the Tribunal. It was further reiterated that, the said order was passed by this Tribunal at the premise of financial hardship to the generator which was being allowed considerably at less transfer price than they actually claimed. The Court concluded that, the maintenance of judicial discipline is a part of our judicial process. Thus, the order was made for the implementation of the order of the Tribunal in its true spirit.[Barmer Lignite Mining Co. Ltd. v. Rajasthan Electricity Regulatory Commission, 2019 SCC OnLine APTEL 27, decided on 17-05-2019]