Suchita, would you please tell our readers what motivated you to pursue law as a career?
When my sister was preparing for her entrance exams for various law schools, I started going through her books and notes. I found the sections on reasoning and logic very fascinating and it motivated me to sit the entrance exams for the 5-year national law schools. I got through to NLSIU, Bangalore and there was no looking back.
You started your career at a prominent law firm. What drew you to an in-house role?
Towards the end of my 7 years as a private practice lawyer, I started to feel stagnant and wanted to explore different avenues. I got an opportunity to join the in-house legal team at Apraava Energy (formerly known as CLP India Private Limited). As a lawyer in private practice, I mainly advised on project finance transactions. However, as an in-house lawyer, I advise in a single day on a wide range of issues, from financing transactions and commercial contracts to disputes and regulatory matters. The range and complexity of cases that arise on a daily basis are both interesting and challenging.
Work as an internal consultant
What is your team size? What does a day in your shoes look like?
Cleantech Solar’s legal and corporate secretarial team includes a total of 12 employees. The team handles legal and company secretarial matters across India and South East Asia.
As General Counsel, I believe the team must collaborate with the business teams to ensure business deliverables are met in a cost- and time-efficient manner and in compliance with the applicable regulatory framework. With this intent, I work with a wide range of stakeholders (be they business teams, shareholders or contractors) to address queries raised, negotiate important commercial contracts, close financing documents or brainstorm next steps to deal with a dispute or regulatory change. I can safely say that every morning brings in something new!
Across companies, management increasingly relies on the in-house team to act as corporate counsel and tends to contact external lawyers for discrete tasks. I believe this approach is beneficial in the long term as the internal team understands the ins and outs of the business and can advise with a deep understanding of the relevant context and commercial requirements.
Trends and expert opinion
What compliances are unique to your sector?
The renewable energy sector has always faced unique challenges. Soil issues remain a problem area. There are also several one-off developments which negatively affect the industry. For example, the C&I solar sector struggled last year to include open-access projects in the ALMM order. Prior to this, several states had tried to renegotiate tariffs in concluded power purchase agreements. If India were to aim to meet its renewable energy targets of 450 GW set for 2030, it would be necessary to address the negative consequences of such policy decisions.
As an important cog, how would you rate India’s corporate governance framework around promoter-driven companies? Are there any glaring areas that require urgent attention?
In recent times, Indian companies, including promoter-driven companies, have increasingly focused on implementing robust corporate governance frameworks. In my view, this change is a result of increased regulatory scrutiny as well as companies voluntarily opting into such measures, recognizing their long-term value. As the Chief Compliance Officer, I conduct sessions on the Cleantech Solar Business Integrity Program for our employees and such sessions help to resolve any doubts and questions which are discussed in an open forum. We have also created an ethics helpline where anyone can anonymously report a violation of the Cleantech Solar Business Integrity Program. Such initiatives help build trust in the company and are valued by internal stakeholders and customers.
Over time, we will need to assess the implementation of such measures to ensure that they continue to remain meaningful and serve the purpose for which they were introduced. This also applies to the various legislative changes that are introduced to address gaps in corporate governance, the effectiveness of such changes and the ability to pivot if necessary must be checked.
Are companies doing enough in terms of women-friendly initiatives and flexi-policies to encourage women in leadership roles?
Before we talk about women in leadership roles, we need to address the fact that women around the world during COVID dropped out of the workforce in record numbers. This trend continues in India, with an estimated 19.2% of women dropping out of the paid workforce in India by 2021. A Business Line news article cited an IMF blog by Christine Lagarde and Jonathan D Ostry, estimating, that the gender gap is closed. for countries ranking in the bottom half in gender inequality could increase GDP by an average of 35%. Therefore, this issue requires immediate attention as there is a massive loss of talent pool. While there are deep-rooted reasons for such developments, including the perceived role of women in society, companies need to explore options to ensure that it remains an attractive option for a wider employee pool. To begin with, flexible work and the option to work from home are alternatives that have already been tested during the pandemic and can be easily implemented.
This brings me to women in leadership roles, I think one of the most important aspects of ensuring women get into leadership roles is training and mentoring them into such roles. Flexipolicies will help, but for me it’s more important to encourage their ambitions and give them the tools to thrive and ignore the noise. In general, I believe that if an employee is able to establish themselves as efficient, competent and with leadership qualities in an organization, they will be given the opportunity to grow.
I have had several female colleagues and friends who have guided me through various phases of my career and I will be forever grateful for their guidance and confidence in me.
Balance between work and leisure
Tell us about your life outside of work. Any books or movies you’d like to recommend to our readers?
Outside of work, I like to spend time with my family, which includes an adorable indie dog. I recently watched Elephant Whisperers on Netflix and absolutely loved it. It shows that humans and animals can build beautiful bonds. A book I would recommend is Virginia Woolf’s – A Room of One’s Own.
What advice would you give to aspiring and young lawyers who aspire to make a successful career in the legal profession?
Learn something new every day!