The “Secretarial Standard on General Meetings” (SS-2), formulated by the Secretarial Standards Board (SSB) of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI) and issued by the Council of the ICSI, has been approved by the Central Government. Adherence to SS-2 is mandatory in terms of sub-section (10) of Section 118 of the Companies Act, 2013 (the Act).
The first version of SS-2 was applicable to all types of General Meetings, in respect of which Notices were issued between 1st July, 2015 to 30th September, 2017.
The revised version of SS-2 applies to all types of General Meetings, in respect of which Notices are issued on or after 1st October, 2017.
SS-2 prescribes a set of principles for convening and conducting General Meetings and matters related thereto.
This Guidance Note sets out the explanations, procedures and practical aspects in respect of the provisions contained in revised SS-2 (effective from 1st October, 2017) to facilitate compliance thereof by the stakeholders.
The Act mandates holding of Meetings at specified intervals and also prescribes related rules for the same. Such mandate is in recognition of the fact that Meetings play a vital role in the functioning and governance of a company. The primary purpose of a Meeting is to ensure that a company gives reasonable and fair opportunity to those entitled to participate in the Meeting to take decisions as per the prescribed procedures. A company, being an artificial person, can, in respect of matters to be decided at General Meeting, take such decisions through its Members by way of Resolutions passed at validly held Meetings. Meetings of Members are known as Genera
Meetings and determining what constitutes such validly held Meeting is of utmost importance.
General Meetings can be broadly categorized as follows :
(i) Annual General Meeting – Every company is required to hold, during every Calendar Year, a Meeting of its Members called the Annual General Meeting. The importance of the Annual General Meeting arises out of the nature of business transacted at this Meeting. Broadly there are two types of business that are transacted at an Annual General Meeting – Ordinary Business and Special Business. At an Annual General Meeting, consideration of financial statements & consolidated financial statements, reports of the Board of Directors and the auditors, declaration of dividend, appointment of Directors in place of those retiring and approval or ratification of appointment of the Auditors and fixing their remuneration are Ordinary Business. Any other item of business is referred to as Special Business and may also be transacted at an Annual General Meeting.
Annual General Meetings provide Members with an opportunity to collectively discuss the affairs of the company and to exercise their ultimate control over the management of the company. If a company defaults in any year in holding its Annual General Meeting, any Member of the company has a statutory right to approach the National Company Law Tribunal (Tribunal) to call or direct the company to call an Annual General Meeting.
(ii) Extra-Ordinary General Meeting – A company may also hold any other Meeting of its Members called an Extra-Ordinary General Meeting, as and when required or at the requisition of the Members. An Extra Ordinary General Meeting is convened for transacting Special or Urgent business that may arise in between two Annual General Meetings. All business transacted at an Extra-Ordinary General Meeting are called Special Business.
(iii) Meeting of a Class of Members – Such Meetings are held to transact business by way of passing Resolutions which only bind the Members of the concerned class. Only Members of that class can attend such Meetings and speak as well as vote thereat, e.g. Meetings of holders of preference shares. Such Meetings are required to be convened when it is proposed to vary the rights of the holders of a particular class of shares. Provisions which govern General Meetings are mutatis mutandis applicable to such Meetings.
(iv) Meetings of Debenture Holders, Creditors etc. –- Such Meetings are held to transact business by way of passing Resolutions which bind the debenture holders or creditors, as the case may be, of the company. The debenture holders or creditors, as the case may be, can attend such Meetings and speak as well as vote thereat. Provisions which govern General Meetings are mutatis mutandis applicable to such Meetings.
(v) Other Meetings – In addition to the above mentioned Meetings, a company may also hold Meetings of its Members, debenture holders or creditors under the directions of the Court or the Tribunal or any other authority.
Members of a company can exercise their powers and can bind the company when they act as a body at a validly convened and held Meeting. They should act collectively and not individually. A Member or shareholder, irrespective of his shareholding, cannot bind a company by his individual act.
The fundamental principles with respect to General Meetings are laid down in the Act. SS-2 facilitates compliance with these principles by endeavoring to provide further clarity where there is ambiguity or establishing benchmark standards to harmonies prevalent diverse practices. Complying with SS-2 ensures robust procedures and systems which protect the interests of the company and its stakeholders. Incidentally, it has been observed that the quantum and propensity for litigations or risk thereof is directly proportional to the degree of non adherence of proper procedures and the non-availability of proper records, especially in the case of small and private companies. SS-2 aims to address such issues.
SS-2 requires the Company Secretary(ies) to over-see the vital process of facilitating and recording the decision making process in a company besides maintaining the integrity of the Meetings. Where there is no Company Secretary in the company or in absence of the Company Secretary, any Director or other Key Managerial Personnel (KMP) or any other officer of the Company authorised by the Board for this purpose may discharge such of the functions of the Company Secretary as given in SS-2.
SS-2 does not seek to substitute or supplant any existing laws. It strives to supplement such laws for promoting better corporate governance.
Therefore, in addition to SS-2, the requirements laid down under any other applicable laws, rules and regulations, need to be complied with. However, in case of variations in any provision of the applicable laws and SS-2, the stricter provisions need to be complied with.
APPLICABILITY OF SS-2
In terms of sub-section (10) of Section 118 of the Act, every company is required to observe SS-2.
SS-2 is thus applicable to General Meetings of all companies incorporated under the Act including private and small companies, except One Person Companies (OPC) and companies licensed under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013 or corresponding provisions of any previous enactment thereof.
MCA Notification No. G.S.R. 466(E) dated 5th June, 2015 exempts companies licensed under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013 from the applicability of Section 118 of the Act as a whole except that Minutes of Meetings of such a company may be recorded within thirty days of the conclusion of every Meeting in case of companies where the Articles of Association provide for confirmation of Minutes by circulation. Consequently, SS-2 is not applicable to companies licensed under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013 or corresponding provisions of any previous enactment thereof. Such companies may voluntarily comply with SS-2. However, Section 8 companies need to comply with the applicable provisions of the Act relating to General Meetings.
Further, MCA vide its Notifications No. G.S.R. 584(E) dated 13th June, 2017 modified the above cited Notification dated 5th June, 2015 to place a restriction that such exemptions shall be applicable to a Section 8 company which have not committed a default in filing its Financial Statements or Annual Return with the Registrar of Companies.
In addition, by virtue of MCA Exemption Notifications No. G.S.R. 08(E) & G.S.R. 9(E), dated 4th January, 2017, following class of companies are exempted from the applicability of Section 118(10) of Companies Act, 2013 i.e. the compliance of Secretarial Standards:
An unlisted public company which is licensed to operate by the Reserve Bank of India or the Securities and Exchange Board of India or the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India from the International Financial Services Centre located in an approved multi services Special Economic Zone set-up under the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 read with the Special Economic Zones Rules, 2006.
A private company which is licensed to operate by the Reserve Bank of India or the Securities and Exchange Board of India or the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India from the International Financial Services Centre located in an approved multi services Special Economic Zone set-up under the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 read with the Special Economic Zones Rules, 2006.
Applicability to companies governed under Special Acts
SS-2 is also applicable to Banking companies, Insurance companies, companies engaged in generation or supply of electricity, companies governed by any special Acts, if incorporated under the Act. However, if the provisions of these special Acts such as the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, the Insurance Act, 1938, etc. applicable to these companies are inconsistent with SS-2, then the provisions of such special Acts shall prevail.
Applicability to the Meetings of class of Members, debenture holders and creditors
The principles enunciated in SS-2 for General Meetings of Members are applicable mutatis mutandis to Meetings of class of Members, debenture holders and creditors.
A Meeting of Members or class of Members or debenture holders or creditors of a company under the directions of the Court, Tribunal or any other prescribed authority shall be governed by SS-2 without prejudice to any rules, regulations and directions prescribed for and orders of, such Courts, Tribunals and other authorities with respect to the conduct of such Meetings.
Effect of subsequent changes in the Act
SS-2 is in conformity with the provisions of the Act. However, if due to subsequent changes in the Act, a particular Standard or any part thereof becomes inconsistent with the Act, the provisions of the Act shall prevail over the Secretarial Standards. Moreover, if any stipulation contained in SS-2 is derived from any provision of law and if such provision is declared inapplicable to any class of companies, such stipulation shall not apply to such class of companies.
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), Government of India, in exercise of its powers conferred by clauses (a) and (b) of sub–section (1) of Section 462 and in pursuance to sub-section (2) of the said section of the Act, vide Notifications No. G.S.R. 463(E), G.S.R. 464(E), G.S.R. 465(E) and G.S.R. 466(E) [(hereinafter referred to as MCA Notification(s)] dated 5th June, 2015, directed that certain provisions of the Act shall not apply or shall apply with such exceptions, modifications and adaptations as specified in the MCA Notification(s) to Government Companies, Private companies, Nidhis and companies incorporated under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013 respectively.
Further, MCA vide its Notification(s) dated 13th June, 2017 modified the above cited Notification(s) dated 5th June, 2015 issued in respect of Government Companies, Private Companies, and Section 8 Companies to place a restriction that such exemptions shall be applicable to those companies which have not committed a default in filing its Financial Statements or Annual Return with the Registrar of Companies.
As stated earlier, by virtue of MCA Exemption Notifications No. G.S.R. 8(E) & G.S.R. 9(E), dated 4th January, 2017, Specified IFSC public company and Specified IFSC private company are also exempted from the applicability of Section 118(10) of Companies Act, 2013 i.e. the compliance of Secretarial Standards.
Accordingly, if due to the MCA Notification(s) referred to herein above or Notifications that may be issued in future, the provisions of the Standards or any part thereof become inconsistent with any of the provisions of the Act, such corresponding provisions of the Act read with the MCA Notification(s) shall prevail.