The stamp duty payable during assignation of debt by Asset Reconstruction Companies
Stamping has been used by litigators as a deus ex machina for long. Insufficient stamping determines the fate of a case quite independent of its facts or merits. The interplay of the stamping legislations with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IB Code, 2016), has not been adequately analysed by either courts or tribunals. Stamping in India is regulated by both Union and State legislations since it is covered by Entry 91 of the Union List and Entry 63 of the State List. The Union legislation is the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 (ISA, 1899)1 and almost all the States have their own stamping statutes. The stamping legislations of old vintage have stood their ground even with the coming of avant garde legislations meant to streamline commercial transactions like the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, SARFAESI Act, 2002, Companies Act, 2013 and now the IB Code,2016.
In Phoenix ARC Private Limited, Mumbai Vs. M/S. Cherupushpam Films Pvt Limited, Ernakulam (2023) ibclaw.in 48 NCLT (hereafter Phoenix ARC) the question raised before the NCLT, Kochi Bench was whether stamp duty has to be paid on a deed assigning debt to an Asset Reconstruction Company (ARC). The NCLT Kochi Bench has held that the ARC is bound to pay the appropriate stamp duty as per the relevant state legislation, in this case the Kerala Stamp Act, 1959 (KSA, 1959)2. The Hon’ble NCLT held that the applicability of KSA 19593 is not ruled out by the prescription under Section 8F of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 (ISA, 1899) which exempts ARCs from paying any stamp duty on “any agreement or other document for transfer or assignment of rights or interest in financial assets of banks or financial institutions” covered under section 5 of the SARFAESI Act, 2002.
KSA, 1959 in section 25, declares the assignment of a debt to be a conveyance, and the duty payable has been pegged at 8%. In the instant case, the Tribunal found that the assignment deed was to be stamped at 8% as per Section 25 of KSA, 1959 since the agreement was made in Kerala. Interestingly in the instant case, the stamp duty as per KSA, 1959 comes to Rs. 6,33,99,500/- while the assignment deed was found to be made on a non-judicial stamp paper of Rs. 500/-. Consequently, the Tribunal found the assignment deed to be unenforceable for insufficient stamping. Phoenix ARC breaks new ground in holding that the assignment of a debt to an Asset Reconstruction Company is liable to be stamped as per the concerned state stamping legislation.
In Essar Steel India Ltd. Committee of Creditors v. Satish Kumar Gupta  ibclaw.in 07 SC (hereafter Essar Steel) the supreme court confirmed the decision of the NCLAT,  ibclaw.in 109 NCLAT in affirming the decision of the NCLT in rejecting an application that suffered from insufficient stamping. And held that “Further, the submission of the Appellants that they have now paid the requisite stamp duty, after the impugned NCLAT judgment, would not assist the case of the Appellants at this belated stage. These appeals are therefore dismissed.” 4 Quite to the contrary, in Praful Nanji Satra v. Vistra ITCL (India) Ltd. (2022) ibclaw.in 550 NCLAT, the NCLAT went on to reject an argument for dismissal of an application for insufficient stamping, holding that the only issue that the NCLT in IBC proceedings can look at is whether there has been a default, and nothing further. It was also held that insufficient stamping is a curable defect. The effect of insufficient stamping has attracted contradictory judgments from the NCLAT and the Supreme Court. However, Phoenix ARC follows the correct law laid down by the Supreme Court in Essar Steel.
It is to be noted that proceedings under Code are non-adversarial. Any applicant seeking to initiate corporate insolvency proceedings is required to produce documents that satisfy the Adjudicating Authority (the NCLT) proving the default committed by the corporate debtor. Such an applicant is also required to ensure that the financial contracts on which they rely are legally sound and are not truncated. While structuring true sale transactions for assignment of debt (standard assets or NPA), compliance under the applicable stamping legislations must be ensured to avoid legal complications.
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