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Financial Debt Under IBC: Navigating Interest-Free Loans Terrain with Insights from the Supreme Court

Financial Debt Under IBC: Navigating Interest-Free Loans Terrain with Insights from the Supreme Court

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of India, in the case of *M/s Orator Marketing Pvt. Ltd. vs. M/s Samtex Desinz Pvt. Ltd.*, delves into the intricacies of financial debt under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC). This judgment, rendered by a bench comprising Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice V. Ramasubramanian, addresses the nuanced question of whether an interest-free term loan, extended to meet the working capital requirements of a corporate entity, qualifies as a financial debt under the IBC.

The Genesis of the Dispute

The appeal was against the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), New Delhi’s dismissal of Orator Marketing Pvt. Ltd.’s plea. The crux of the matter revolved around the rejection of a petition filed under Section 7 of the IBC by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), New Delhi, predicated on the understanding that an interest-free loan does not constitute a financial debt as it ostensibly lacks the consideration for the time value of money.

“The short question involved in this Appeal is whether a person who gives a term loan to a Corporate Person free of interest on account of its working capital requirements is not a Financial Creditor and therefore incompetent to initiate the Corporate Resolution Process under Section 7 of the IBC.”

The Legal Conundrum

At the heart of the dispute was the interpretation of the term “financial debt” under Section 5(8) of the IBC and whether an interest-free loan disbursed for working capital requirements could be construed under this ambit. The original lender, M/s Sameer Sales Private Limited, had advanced a term loan of Rs.1.60 crores to the corporate debtor, which was subsequently assigned to Orator Marketing Pvt. Ltd.

“According to the Appellant the loan was due to be repaid by the Corporate Debtor in full within 01.02.2020. The Appellant claims that the Corporate Debtor made some payments but Rs.1.56 crores still remain outstanding.”

Financial Debt Under IBC: Judicial Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court meticulously analyzed the provisions of the IBC, particularly the definitions of “debt,” “claim,” “default,” “financial creditor,” and “financial debt.” The bench underscored the expansive nature of these definitions, noting the absence of an express exclusion of interest-free loans from the ambit of “financial debt.”

“The NCLT and NCLAT have overlooked the words “if any” which could not have been intended to be otiose. ‘Financial debt’ means outstanding principal due in respect of a loan and would also include interest thereon if any interest were payable thereon.”

The critical observation by the Supreme Court, pointing out the oversight of the words “if any” by the NCLT and NCLAT, is in reference to the definition of “financial debt” under Section 5(8) of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC). This section is pivotal in determining what constitutes a financial debt, thereby identifying the entities eligible to initiate the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process.

Section 5(8) of the IBC: A Closer Look

Section 5(8) of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, defines “financial debt” as follows:

“(8) ‘financial debt’ means a debt along with interest, if any, which is disbursed against the consideration for the time value of money and includes—

(a) money borrowed against the payment of interest;

(b) any amount raised by acceptance under any acceptance credit facility or its de-materialised equivalent;

(c) any amount raised pursuant to any note purchase facility or the issue of bonds, notes, debentures, loan stock or any similar instrument;

(d) the amount of any liability in respect of any lease or hire purchase contract which is deemed as a finance or capital lease under the Indian Accounting Standards or such other accounting standards as may be prescribed;

(f) any amount raised under any other transaction, including any forward sale or purchase agreement, having the commercial effect of a borrowing…”

This definition explicitly acknowledges that a “financial debt” may include interest but crucially adds the qualifier “if any” to indicate that the presence of interest is not a mandatory criterion for a debt to qualify as a financial debt. The inclusion of “if any” suggests that the legislation intentionally accommodates interest-free loans within the ambit of financial debts, provided they meet the core requirement: the disbursement of debt against the consideration for the time value of money.

Understanding “if any” in the Context of Financial Debt

The phrase “if any” plays a significant role in the interpretation of “financial debt.” It signifies that while interest is a common feature of financial debts, its absence does not preclude a debt from being recognized as a financial debt under the IBC. This interpretation is vital for comprehending the breadth of financial debts and ensuring that the provisions of the IBC are inclusively applied to encompass a range of financial arrangements, including interest-free loans. 

By highlighting the overlooked “if any” phrasing, the Supreme Court clarifies that the IBC’s framework is designed to be comprehensive, capturing various forms of credit arrangements that extend beyond traditional interest-bearing loans. This understanding is critical for stakeholders in insolvency proceedings, ensuring that the legislative intent of the IBC—to streamline and encompass a broad spectrum of financial relationships within its purview—is faithfully executed.

This nuanced interpretation underlines the IBC’s goal of addressing corporate insolvency in a manner that is both pragmatic and inclusive, acknowledging the diversity of financial instruments and arrangements in the contemporary financial landscape. The Supreme Court’s clarification ensures that the scope of “financial debt” is adequately broad to include interest-free loans, thereby affirming the rights of creditors holding such instruments to participate in the insolvency resolution process.

The Verdict: Clarifying Financial Debt Under IBC

In setting aside the judgments of both the NCLAT and NCLT, the Supreme Court unequivocally held that interest-free loans advanced to finance the business operations of a corporate body do indeed qualify as “financial debt” under the IBC. The apex court emphasized the need for a broad interpretation of the term “financial debt” to encompass interest-free loans, thereby aligning with the overarching objectives of the IBC.

“‘Financial Debt’ would have to be construed to include interest-free loans advanced to finance the business operations of a corporate body. The appeal is therefore allowed… The petition under Section 7 stands revived and may be decided afresh in accordance with law and in the light of the findings above.”

Expanding the Definition of Time Value of Money

The concept of the “time value of money” under the IBC has been a subject of extensive judicial scrutiny. In the landmark decision of Pioneer Urban, the Supreme Court elucidated that TVM extends beyond mere interest on loans to include the intrinsic benefits derived from financial transactions, such as advance payments for property construction. This broader interpretation signifies a shift towards recognizing the multifaceted nature of financial contributions and their impact on corporate financing.

“The Supreme Court in Pioneer Urban recognized that the time value of money includes the benefits accrued from advance payments, challenging the conventional notion that financial debt is synonymous with interest-bearing loans.”

The Orator Marketing Decision: A Critical Shift

The Orator Marketing case further delved into the ambit of financial debt, particularly focusing on whether interest-free loans qualify as financial debt under the IBC. The Supreme Court’s affirmative stance in this case underscores the principle that the essence of a financial debt lies in the consideration for the time value of money, irrespective of the accrual of interest. This decision opens up new avenues for creditors to assert their rights under the IBC, emphasizing the commercial effect of borrowing as a key determinant.

“In Orator Marketing, the Supreme Court posited that interest-free loans, by their commercial effect, fall within the scope of financial debt, broadening the category of financial creditors eligible to initiate insolvency proceedings.”

Implications of Financial Debt Under IBC for Creditors and the Insolvency Resolution Process

The expansive interpretation of financial debt, particularly regarding the time value of money, has profound implications for the insolvency resolution process. By including a wider array of financial transactions as financial debt, the IBC allows for a more inclusive creditor participation in the Committee of Creditors (CoC). This inclusivity, while enhancing the democratic nature of the insolvency process, also necessitates a careful balance to ensure that the CoC’s decision-making remains effective and aligned with the objective of maximizing the debtor company’s value.

“The inclusion of creditors with interest-free loans within the CoC underscores the need for a nuanced understanding of financial debt, ensuring that the resolution process remains both inclusive and focused on the optimal recovery for all stakeholders.”

Towards a Refined Jurisprudence on Financial Debt under IBC

The evolving jurisprudence on financial debt, marked by significant rulings like Pioneer Urban and Orator Marketing, calls for a refined understanding of the IBC’s provisions. It highlights the necessity for legislative clarity and judicial consistency in interpreting the time value of money and its implications for defining financial debt. As the IBC continues to mature, the legal community and stakeholders alike must navigate these complexities to foster a robust insolvency resolution framework.

“The journey towards a comprehensive jurisprudence on financial debt under the IBC underscores the dynamic nature of insolvency law and the critical role of the judiciary in shaping its contours for the benefit of the Indian economy.”

These sections can seamlessly integrate into the “Navigating the Financial Debt Terrain” article, offering a detailed exploration of the time value of money and its significance in the context of financial debt under the IBC.


This landmark decision by the Supreme Court significantly broadens the scope of what constitutes a financial debt under the IBC, thus impacting the rights and remedies available to creditors of corporate debtors. It affirms the principle that the essence of a financial debt lies not in the accrual of interest but in the disbursement of a loan against the consideration for the time value of money, whether or not interest is chargeable. This judgment not only clarifies the legal position concerning interest-free loans but also underscores the IBC’s goal of facilitating the resolution of corporate insolvency in a creditor-friendly manner, ensuring that the mechanism for the resolution of financial distress is both inclusive and effective.




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