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1. Introduction

1.1 This article provides complete insight into the Acquisition and transfer of immovable property in India by-

  • Non-Resident Indian (NRI),
  • Overseas Citizen of India (OCI)

as per the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA) and rules/regulations made thereunder.

1.2 The acquisition and transfer of immovable property in India by PROI (Person Resident of India) and by some other specified persons (such as Long Term Visa (LTV) Holders, Foreign Embassies or Diplomats or Consulate Generals etc.) is not discussed in this article and the same will be discussed in upcoming article. Further, the conceptual clarity and difference between NRI, OCI, PROI, PRI, Citizen etc. is separate topic. This requires in depth understanding, therefore, the same will be discussed in separate article. The link of upcoming relevant articles will be shared in comment section for ease of reference.

Acquisition and transfer of immovable property in India by NRI and OCI

2. Historical Background

2.1 [Before the enactment of FEMA] As we know, before the enactment of FEMA, there was Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1973 (Repealed by FEMA) and section 31(1) of said Act provided that “No person who is not a citizen of India and no company (other than a banking company) which is not incorporated under any law in force in India shall, except with the previous general or special permission of the Reserve Bank, acquire or hold or transfer or dispose of by sale, mortgage, lease, gift, settlement or otherwise an immovable property situate in India.”

2.2 [After the enactment of FEMA] The FEMA classifies each foreign transaction in two categories viz: Current Account Transaction and Capital Account Transaction. The Current account transactions are generally permitted unless prohibited and capital account transactions are generally prohibited unless specifically permitted. The Central Government has an exclusive jurisdiction to regulate current account transactions and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had exclusive jurisdiction to regulate capital account transactions. Accordingly, as per the provisions of section 6(3)(i) (now omitted), the RBI had exclusive jurisdiction to prohibit, restrict or regulate the acquisition or transfer of immovable property in India, other than a lease not exceeding five years, by a person resident outside India

2.3 [Amendment by Finance Act 2015 in FEMA] Later on, the Finance Act, 2015 amended the section 6 of the FEMA and classifies the capital account transactions in two categories: viz capital account transactions, involving debt instruments and capital account transactions, not involving debt instruments. Further, it has been provided that the term “debt instruments” shall mean, such instruments as may be determined by the Central Government in consultation with the Reserve Bank.

2.4 [Current Position] As discussed above, by the Finance Act 2015, the capital account transactions were further classified in two categories: viz capital account transactions, involving debt instruments and capital account transactions, not involving debt instruments. The power to regulate the capital account transactions, involving debt instruments is with the RBI and the power to regulate the capital account transactions, not involving debt instruments is with Central Government.

2.5 Summary of Above Discussion: The above discussion is summarized as under:

Summary of Foreign Exchange Transaction

 

3. Important Terms

3.1 [Immovable Property]

3.1.1 The term Immovable Property neither has been defined in the FEMA nor in rules / regulations. Therefore, the meaning of same can be borrowed from the General Clause Act, 1897. Section 3(26) of the said Act provides that “immovable property” shall include land, benefits to arise out of land, and things attached to the earth, or permanently fastened to anything attached to the earth;

3.1.2 Apart from the above, the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, Registration Act, 1908 and Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 also contain the definition of immovable property. However, in substance, all these enacts highlight similar view while defining “immovable property”.

3.2 [Acquire]

3.2.1 The term acquire is not defined in the Rules or Act. Generally, it means “to gain possession or control of; to get or obtain.”

3.3 [Transfer]

3.3.1 Transfer is Defined in FEMA. Section 2(ze) define [“transfer” includes sale, purchase, exchange, mortgage, pledge, gift, loan or any other form of transfer of right, title, possession or lien.]

4. FEMA Provisions & Relevant Rules

4.1 Section 6(2A) and 46(2)(ab) empower the Central Government to notify or make rules with respect to the permissible classes of capital account transactions (not involving debt instrument), the limits of admissibility of foreign exchange, and the prohibition, restriction or regulation of such transactions.

4.2 Therefore, in Oct. 2019, the Central Government notifies Foreign Exchange Management (Non-debt Instruments) Rules, 2019 by suppressing the previous regulations made by RBI viz: Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer of Issue of Security by a Person Resident outside India) Regulations, 2017 and the Foreign Exchange Management (Acquisition and Transfer of Immovable Property in India) Regulations, 2018.

4.3 Chapter IX of Foreign Exchange Management (Non-debt Instruments) Rules, 2019 (“Rules”) contain the provisions regarding acquisition and transfer of immovable property in India.

5. General (Rules applicable in all cases)

5.1 [All transactions should be done only through banking channel in India and subject to payment of applicable tax] Any transaction involving acquisition or transfer of immovable property shall be undertaken through banking channels in India and subject to payment of applicable taxes and other duties or levies in India (e.g. Stamp Duty, Registration Fees, Applicable Income Tax etc.)

5.2 [Prior approval of RBI required by citizens of certain countries]

5.2.1 Prior permission of the RBI required to acquire or transfer of immovable property in India (other than lease not exceeding five years) by the person who is citizen or legal person (company, LLP, Firm, Trust etc.) of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, China, Iran, Nepal, Bhutan, Hong Kong or Macau or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

5.2.2 Please note that this rule links the condition of prior approval of the RBI with the citizenship (including legal person incorporated in those countries), therefore, even if such citizens become Person Resident in India by virtue of provisions of Section 2(v), then still, they must obtain the prior approval of the RBI.

5.2.3 Now suppose, there are two persons being husband and wife and any of them is citizen of above country and another is citizen of India and both desires to purchase the property in joint name, then, in the opinion of author, still prior approval of RBI is must.

5.2.4 However, this prohibition is not applicable to OCI card holder (i.e. a person who is holding OCI card and is citizen of any of above mentioned country)

5.3 [Prior approval of RBI is must in case of any deviation or non fulfilment of any condition]

5.3.1 Any transaction, which is not specified in Chapter IX of Rules or in case of any deviation or non fulfilment of any conditions, requires prior approval of RBI before the execution of such transaction.

5.3.2 In case if person fails to obtain prior approval, wherever required, and execute the transaction, then this may attract the adjudication or person have to file compounding application for compounding of offence before the RBI.

 

6. Rules for NRI and OCI

6.1 [Acquisition other than gift or inheritance]

6.1.1 NRI and OCI can acquire any immovable property other than an agricultural land or farm house or plantation property

6.1.2 Permitted mode of payment: (i) funds received in India through banking channels by way of inward remittance from any place outside India or (ii) funds held in any non-resident account maintained in accordance with the provisions of the Act, rules or regulations framed thereunder (such as NRE / FCNR / NRO account). However, property acquired by utilizing funds of NRO account cannot be repatriate outside India (see para 7 of this article).

6.1.3 Prohibited mode of payment: payment made through traveller’s cheque or by foreign currency notes or by any other mode other than those specifically permitted.

 

6.2 [Acquisition by way of gift]

6.2.1 NRI and OCI can acquire any immovable property in India (other than agricultural land or farm house or plantation property) by way of gift from a person who is either person resident in India or NRI or OCI.

6.2.2 Further, such donor (who is giving gift of immovable property) should be relative of such NRI / OCI with the meaning of section 2(77) of the Companies Act, 2013.

6.2.3 Section 2(77) of Companies Act, 2013 define relative as under;

(77) "relative", with reference to any person, means any one who is related to another, if-

(i) they are members of a Hindu Undivided Family;
(ii) they are husband and wife; or
(iii) one person is related to the other in such manner as may be prescribed (following relations are prescribed)
(1) Father (includes step-father)
(2) Mother (includes the step-mother)
(3) Son (includes step son)
(4) Son's wife.
(5) Daughter.
(6) Daughter’s husband.
(7) Brother (includes step brother)
(8) Sister (includes the step-sister)

6.3 [Acquisition by way of inheritance]

6.3.1 Sub-section (5) of section 6 of FEMA provides that

  • 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.

6.3.2 Section 6(5) of FEMA allows the PROI to hold any immovable property situated in India property if such property was acquired by such person when he was resident in India or inherited from a person who was resident in India. However, this section does not allow to acquire new property by PROI out of fund accumulated during the period when he was resident or funds received in inheritance and this can be appreciated from the reading of the part of the provision (may hold, own, transfer or invest) which does not contain acquire.

6.3.3 NRI and OCI can acquire any property (including agricultural land or farm house or plantation property) by way of inheritance from a person resident outside India who has

(a) acquired such immovable property in accordance with the provisions of the foreign exchange law in force at the time of acquisition by him or the provisions of these rules; or

(b) from a person resident in India.

6.4 [Transfer of any property by NRI and OCI]

’cheque or by foreign currency notes or by any other mode other than those specifically permitted as above

  • The marriage has been registered and subsisted for a continuous period of not less than two years immediately preceding the acquisition of such property
  • Such non-resident spouse is not otherwise prohibited from such acquisition (g. suppose if the Spouse is Citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, China, Iran, Nepal, Bhutan, Hong Kong or Macau or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), then prior approval of RBI is mandatory)

6.6 [Summary]

6.6.1 The above discussion is summarized as under:

Summary

7. Repatriation of sale proceed

7.1 [Repatriation by person referred in Section 6(5)] PROI or his successor (who acquired immovable property when he was resident in India or inherited from a person who was resident in India) shall not, except with the general or specific permission of the RBI, repatriate outside India the sale proceeds of any immovable property referred to in that sub-section.

 

7.2 [Repatriation by NRI / OCI] Subject to fulfilment of following conditions NRI / OCI may repatriate the sale proceed outside:

  • Sale proceed does not relates to agricultural land or farm house or plantation property in India
  • Such immovable property was acquired by the seller in accordance with the provisions of the foreign exchange law in force at the time of acquisition or the provisions of these rules
  • In the case of residential property, the repatriation of sale proceeds is restricted to not more than two such properties
  • The amount for acquisition of the immovable property was paid in foreign exchange received through banking channels or out of funds held in Foreign Currency Non-Resident Account or out of funds held in Non-Resident External Account. (it is apparent that, while acquiring, if funds were utilized from NRO account, then such proceed cannot be repatriate outside India. If funds were utilized partially from the NRO and partially from NRE account? In such case, in the opinion of the author, the prior permission of RBI is must.)

8. Disclaimer

The contents of this document are solely for informational purpose. It does not constitute professional advice or a formal recommendation. While due care has been taken in preparing this document, the existence of mistakes and omissions herein is not ruled out. Neither the author nor the publisher or its affiliates accepts any liabilities for any loss or damage of any kind arising out of any inaccurate or incomplete information in this document nor for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

The author is practicing Chartered Accountant and he can be reached at harchandanimanish@gmail.com


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