Foreign Exchange Management Act

Foreign Exchange Management Act

The Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1973 (FERA)in India was repealed on 1st June, 2000. It was replaced by the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), which was passed in the winter session of Parliament in 1999. Enacted in 1973, in the backdrop of acute shortage of Foreign Exchange in the country, FERA had a controversial 27 year stint during which many bosses of the Indian Corporate world found themselves at the mercy of the Enforcement Directorate (E.D.). Any offense under FERA was a criminal offense liable to imprisonment, whereas FEMA seeks to make offenses relating to foreign exchange civil offenses.

FEMA, which has replaced FERA, had become the need of the hour since FERA had become incompatible with the pro-liberalisation policies of the Government of India. FEMA has brought a new management regime of Foreign Exchange consistent with the emerging frame work of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It is another matter that enactment of FEMA also brought with it Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 which came into effect recently from 1st July, 2005 and the heat of which is yet to be felt as “Enforcement Directorate” would be invesitigating the cases under PMLA too.

Unlike other laws where "everything is permitted unless specifically prohibited, under FERA nothing was permitted unless specifically permitted". Hence the tenor and tone of the Act was very drastic. It provided for imprisonment of even a very minor offence. Under FERA, "a person was presumed guilty unless he proved himself innocent whereas under other laws, a person is presumed innocent unless he is proven guilty".

Objectives and Extent of FEMA

The objective of the Act is to consolidate and amend the law relating to foreign exchange with the objective of facilitating external trade and payments and for promoting the orderly development and maintenance of foreign exchange market in India.

FEMA extends to the whole of India. It applies to all branches, offices and agencies outside India owned or controlled by a person who is a resident of India and also to any contravention there under committed outside India by any person to whom this Act applies.

Except with the general or special permission of the Reserve Bank of India, no person can :-

* deal in or transfer any foreign exchange or foreign security to any person not being an authorized person;
* make any payment to or for the credit of any person resident outside India in any manner;
* receive otherwise through an authorized person, any payment by order or on behalf of any person resident outside India in any manner;
* reasonable restrictions for current account transactions as may be prescribed.

Any person may sell or draw foreign exchange to or from an authorized person for a capital account transaction. The Reserve Bank may, in consultation with the Central Government, specify :-

* any class or classes of capital account transactions which are permissible;
* the limit up to which foreign exchange shall be admissible for such transactions

However, the Reserve Bank cannot impose any restriction on the drawing of foreign exchange for payments due on account of amortization of loans or for depreciation of direct investments in the ordinary course of business.

The Reserve Bank can, by regulations, prohibit, restrict or regulate the following :-
* transfer or issue of any foreign security by a person resident in India;
* transfer or issue of any security by a person resident outside India;
* transfer or issue of any security or foreign security by any branch, office or agency in India of a person resident outside India;
* any borrowing or lending in foreign exchange in whatever form or by whatever name called;
* any borrowing or tending in rupees in whatever form or by whatever name called between a person resident in India and a person resident outside India;
* deposits between persons resident in India and persons resident outside India;
* export, import or holding of currency or currency notes;
* transfer of immovable property outside India, other than a lease not exceeding five years, by a person resident in India;
* acquisition or transfer of immovable property in India, other than a lease not exceeding five years, by a person resident outside India;
* giving of a guarantee or surety in respect of any debt, obligation or other liability incurred
**(i) by a person resident in India and owed to a person resident outside India or
**(ii) by a person resident outside India.

A person, resident in India may hold, own, transfer or invest in foreign currency, foreign security or any immovable property situated outside India if such currency, security or property was acquired, held or owned by such person when he was resident outside India or inherited from a person who was resident outside India.

A person resident outside India may hold, own, transfer or invest in Indian currency, security or any immovable property situated in India if such currency, security or property was acquired, held or owned by such person when he was resident in India or inherited from a person who was resident in India.

The Reserve Bank may, by regulation, prohibit, restrict, or regulate establishment in India of a branch, office or other place of business by a person resident outside India, for carrying on any activity relating to such branch, office or other place of business.Every exporter of goods and services must :-
* furnish to the Reserve Bank or to such other authority a declaration in such form and in such manner as may be specified, containing true and correct material particulars, including the amount representing the full export value or, if the full export value of the goods is not ascertainable at the time of export, the value which the exporter, having regard to the prevailing market conditions, expects to receive on the sale of the goods in a market outside India;
* furnish to the Reserve Bank such other information as may be required by the Reserve Bank for the purpose of ensuring the realization of the export proceeds by such exporter.

The Reserve Bank may, for the purpose of ensuring that the full export value of the goods or such reduced value of the goods as the Reserve Bank determines, having regard to the prevailing market-conditions, is received without any delay, direct any exporter to comply with such requirements as it deems fit.

Where any amount of foreign exchange is due or has accrued to any person resident in India, such person shall take all reasonable steps to realize and repatriate to India such foreign exchange within such period and in such manner as may be specified by the Reserve Bank.

Contraventions and Penalties

If any person contravenes any provision of this Act, or contravenes any rule, regulation, notification, direction or order issued in exercise of the powers under this Act, or contravenes any condition subject to which an authorization is issued by the Reserve Bank, he shall, upon adjudication, be liable to a penalty up to thrice the sum involved in such contravention where such amount is quantifiable, or up to two lakh rupees where the amount is not quantifiable, and where such contravention is a continuing one, further penalty which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day after the first day during which the contravention continues.

Any Adjudicating Authority adjudging any contravention may, if he thinks fit in addition to any penalty which he may impose for such contravention direct that any currency, security or any other money or property in respect of which the contravention has taken place shall be confiscated to the Central Government and further direct that the foreign exchange holdings, if any, of the persons committing the contraventions or any part thereof, shall be brought back into India or shall be retained outside India in accordance with the directions made in this behalf.

"Property" in respect of which contravention has taken place, shall include deposits in a bank, where the said property is converted into such deposits, Indian currency, where the said property is converted into that currency; and any other property which has resulted out of the conversion of that property.

If any person fails to make full payment of the penalty imposed on him within a period of ninety days from the date on which the notice for payment of such penalty is served on him, he shall be liable to civil imprisonment.


The Directorate of Enforcement investigate to prevent leakage of foreign exchange which generally occurs through the following malpractices :
* Remittances of Indians abroad otherwise than through normal banking channels, i.e. through compensatory payments.
* Acquisition of foreign currency illegally by person in India.
* Non-repatriation of the proceeds of the exported goods.
* Unauthorised maintenance of accounts in foreign countries.
* Under-invoicing of exports and over-invoicing of imports and any other type of invoice manipulation.
* Siphoning off of foreign exchange against fictitious and bogus imports.
* Illegal acquisition of foreign exchange through Hawala.
* Secreting of commission abroad.

Organisational Set Up and Functions Of Enforcement Directorate

Directorate of Enforcement has to detect cases of violation and also perform substantially adjudicatory functions to curb above malpractices.

The Enforcement Directorate, with its Headquarters at New Delhi has seven zonal offices at Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Jalandhar, Madras, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. The zonal offices are headed by the Deputy Directors. The Directorate has nine sub-zonal offices at Agra, Srinagar, Jaipur, Varanasi, Trivandrum, Calicut, Hyderabad, Guwahati and Goa, which are headed by the Assistant Directors. The Directorate has also a Unit at Madurai, which is headed by a Chief Enforcement Officer. Besides, there are three Special Directors of Enforcement and one Additional Director of Enforcement.

The main functions of the Directorate are as under:

* To collect and develop intelligence relating to violation of the provisions of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and while working out the same, depending upon the circumstances of the case:
* To conduct searches of suspected persons, conveyances and premises for seizing incriminating materials (including Indian and foreign currencies involved) and/or.
* To enquire into and investigate suspected violations of provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act.
* To adjudicate cases of violations of Foreign Exchange Management Act for levying penalties departmentally and also for confiscating the amounts involved in contravent ions;
* To realise the penalties imposed in departmental adjudication.

Procedural Provisions

For enforcing the provisions of various sections of FEMA, 1999, the officers of Enforcement Directorate of the level of Assistant Director and above will have to undertake the following functions

* Collection and development of intelligence/information.
* Keeping surveillance over suspects.
* Searches of persons/vehicles by provisions of Income-tax Act, 1961.
* Searches of premises as per provisions of Income-tax Act, 1961.
* Summoning of persons for giving evidence and producing of documents as per provisions of Income-tax Act, l96l.
* Power to examine persons as per provisions of Income-tax Act,1961.
* Power to call for any information/document as per provisions of Income-tax Act, 1961.
* Power to seize documents etc. as per provisions of Income-tax Act, 1961.
* Custody of documents as per Income-tax Act, 1961.
* Adjudication and appeals - Officers of and above the rank of Dy Director of Enforcement, are cases of contravention of the provisions of the Act; these proceedings which are quasi-judicial in nature, start with the issuance of show cause notice; in the event of cause shown by the Notice-not being found satisfactory, further proceedings are held, vis. personal hearing, in which the noticee has a further right to present his defence, either in person or through any authorised representative; on conclusion of these proceedings, the adjudicating authority has to examine and consider the evidence on record, in its entirety and in case the charges not being found proved, the noticee is acquitted, and in the event of charges being found substantiated, such penalty, as is considered appropriate as per provisions of section 13 of the Act can be imposed, besides confiscation of amounts involved in these contraventions.

External links

* [ Frequently Asked Questions On FEMA & Non Resident Indians (NRI)]
* [ Reserve Bank of India FEMA website]
* [ FEMA from the Finance Ministry]
* [ Foreign Exchange Management Act]
* [ FEMA for NRIs/ PIOs]

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