Surviving a ‘new normal’

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India Business Law Journal teamed up with prominent arbitrator Ashok Sharma and a stellar panel of GCs to debate how in-house legal teams should rise to the unprecedented challenges facing Indian companies in a post-lockdown environment

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An edited transcript and video highlights of each topic follow below

anand and anand

We are living through an unprecedented crisis, both in terms of scale and impact. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our ways of doing business, working, socializing, and just about every aspect of our lives. As of this moment, COVID-19 has affected more than six million people around the world.

India Business Law Journal has partnered with Ashok Sharma, a counsel and arbitrator in commercial and maritime arbitrations, for a discussion with company legal heads – some of the most prominent names in India’s in-house legal community – on how companies can overcome this challenge.

On the panel, which is moderated by Sharma, is made up of: Subir Bikas Mitra, executive director (law and HR) at GAIL (India); Srivals Kumar, general counsel and senior vice president of legal at Raheja Universal; Manjaree Chowdhary, executive director and general counsel at Maruti Suzuki India; Mahesh Sreenivasan, head of legal and company secretarial department of RITES; Rajendra Misra, general counsel of the Indian Hotels Company; and Rajiv Choubey, director, legal at ACC, a LafargeHolcim group company.

What is the expected scenario for companies in a post-COVID-19 environment?

Ashok Sharma: This crisis has brought to fore the need that the legal community has to adopt to new technology and remote work. Most of us are working from home, courts are closed, arbitrations are not taking place. India has practically been pushed into a digital world immediately. Although we were getting ready for that, in certain aspects the legal ecosystem is yet to adapt to the new normal. What is the expected scenario for companies in the COVID-19 environment and post-lockdown period?

Srivals Kumar: To start with, I will say that generally this has been one of the most difficult times for each one of us in our legal career, because none of us would have expected such a big impact on the economy and every sector, per se. There are challenges that one would never have thought through, either in the formulation of any contract, joint venture, or any agreement for that matter. Having said that, one should look at the silver lining behind the dark clouds. COVID-19 definitely brought out a lot of challenges if I take the example of the real estate industry, which I belong to. Real estate was already impacted by the GST [goods and service tax] measures, demonetization and the launch of a regulatory regime in the industry.

There were huge challenges, and there was the economic downturn in the industry per se. This impact will further push it down and change the whole dynamics of the industry. And it doesn’t apply to one industry, but all industries. All senior management teams need to look at it in a different context. In the real estate industry, we will start seeing people who have the ability to look at it from moving from a rental domain to buying their owned home.

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