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The word 'Company' is an amalgamation of the Latin word 'Com' meaning "with or together" and 'Pains' meaning "bread". Originally, it referred to a group of persons who took their meals together. A company is nothing but a group of persons who have come together or who have contributed money for some common person and who have incorporated themselves into a distinct legal entity in the form of a company for that purpose. Under Halsbury’s Laws of England, the term "company" has been defined as a collection of many individuals united into one body under special domination, having perpetual succession under an artificial form and vested by the policies of law with the capacity of acting in several respect as an individual, particularly for taking and granting of property, for contracting obligation and for suing and being sued, for enjoying privileges and immunities in common and exercising a variety of political rights, more or less extensive, according to the design of its institution or the powers upon it, either at the time of its creation or at any subsequent period of its existence. However, the Supreme Court of India has held in the case of State Trading Corporation of India v/s CTO that a company cannot have the status of a citizen under the Constitution of India.

A company as an entity has several distinct features which together make it a unique organization. The following are the defining characteristics of a company :-

Separate Legal Entity :
On incorporation under law, a company becomes a separate legal entity as compared to its members. The company is different and distinct from its members in law. It has its own name and its own seal, its assets and liabilities are separate and distinct from those of its members. It is capable of owning property, incurring debt, borrowing money, having a bank account, employing people, entering into contracts and suing and being sued separately.

Limited Liability :
The liability of the members of the company is limited to contribution to the assets of the company upto the face value of shares held by him. A member is liable to pay only the uncalled money due on shares held by him when called upon to pay and nothing more, even if liabilities of the company far exceeds its assets. On the other hand, partners of a partnership firm have unlimited liability i.e. if the assets of the firm are not adequate to pay the liabilities of the firm, the creditors can force the partners to make good the deficit from their personal assets. This cannot be done in case of a company once the members have paid all their dues towards the shares held by them in the company.

Perpetual Succession:
A company does not die or cease to exist unless it is specifically wound up or the task for which it was formed has been completed. Membership of a company may keep on changing from time to time but that does not affect life of the company. Death or insolvency of member does not affect the existence of the company.

Separate Property:
A company is a distinct legal entity. The company’s property is its own. A member cannot claim to be owner of the company's property during the existence of the company.

Transferability of Shares:
Shares in a company are freely transferable, subject to certain conditions, such that no share-holder is permanently or necessarily wedded to a company. When a member transfers his shares to another person, the transferee steps into the shoes of the transferor and acquires all the rights of the transferor in respect of those shares.

Common Seal:
A company is a artificial person and does not have a physical presence. Therefore, it acts through its Board of Directors for carrying out its activities and entering into various agreements. Such contracts must be under the seal of the company. The common seal is the official signature of the company. The name of the company must be engraved on the common seal. Any document not bearing the seal of the company may not be accepted as authentic and may not have any legal force.

Capacity to sue and being sued:
A company can sue or be sued in its own name as distinct from its members.

Separate Management:
A company is administered and managed by its managerial personnel i.e. the Board of Directors. The shareholders are simply the holders of the shares in the company and need not be necessarily the managers of the company.

One Share-One Vote:
The principle of voting in a company is one share-one vote. I.e. if a person has 10 shares, he has 10 votes in the company. This is in direct contrast to the voting principle of a co-operative society where the "One Member - One Vote" principle applies i.e. irrespective of the number of shares held, one member has only one vote.

Distinction between Company and Partnership

  1. A Partnership firm is sum total of persons who have come together to share the profits of the business carried on by them or any of them. It does not have a separate legal entity. A Company is association of persons who have come together for a specific purpose. The company has a separate legal entity as soon as it is incorporated under law.

  2. Liability of the partners is unlimited. However, the liability of shareholders of a limited company is limited to the extent of unpaid share or to the tune of the unpaid amount guaranteed by the shareholder.

  3. Property of the firm belongs to the partners and they are collectively entitled to it. In case of a company, the property belongs to the company and not to its members.

  4. A partner cannot transfer his shares in the partnership firm without the consent of all other partners. In case of a company, shares may be transferred without the permission of the other members, in absence of provision to contrary in articles of association of the company.

  5. In case of partnership, the number of members must not exceed 20 in case of banking business and 10 in other businesses. A Public company may have as many members as it desires subject to a minimum of 7 members. A Private company cannot have more than 50 members.

  6. There must be at least 2 members in order to form a partnership firm. The minimum number of members necessary for a public limited company is seven and two for a private limited company.

  7. In case of a partnership, 100 % consensus is required for any decision. In case of a company, decision of the majority prevails.

  8. On the death of any partner, the partnership is dissolved unless there is provision to the contrary. On the death of the shareholder the company' existence does not get terminated.

Illegal Association:
Under the Companies Act, 1956, not more than 10 persons can come together for carrying on any banking business and not more than 20 persons can come together for carrying on any other of business, unless the association is registered under the Companies Act or any other Indian law. Any association which does not comply with the above norms is an illegal association. Therefore, a partnership of more 10 or 20 members, as the case may be, is an illegal association unless the registered under the Companies Act or any other Indian law.

However, this provision does not apply in the following cases :-

  1. A Joint Hindu Family business comprising of family members only. But where two or more Joint Hindu families come together for business through partnership, the total number of members cannot exceed 10 or 20 as the case may be, but in computing the number of persons, minor members of such family will be excluded.
  2. Any association of charitable, religious, scientific trust or organisation which is not formed with a profit motive
  3. Foreign companies.

When the number of members exceed the prescribed maximum, members must register it under Companies Act or any other Indian law.

Consequences of non-registration:
An illegal association is not recognised by law. An illegal association cannot enter into any contract, cannot sue any members or any outsider, cannot be sued by any members or outsiders for any of its debts. The members of the illegal association are personally for the obligations of the illegal association. A member may be liable to a fine of Rs. 1000. Any member of an illegal association cannot sue another member in respect of any matter connected with the association.

Minimum number of members
A public company must have at least 7 members whereas a private company may have only 2 members. If the number of members fall below the statutory minimum and the company carries on its business beyond a period of six months after the number has so fallen, the reduction of number of members below the legal minimum is a ground for the winding up of the company.

Types of Companies
1.Public Company
means a company which not a private company.

2.Private Company means a company which by its articles of association :-

    1. Restricts the right of members to transfer its shares
    2. Limits the number of its members to fifty. In determining this number of 50, employee-members and ex-employee members are not to be considered.
    3. Prohibits an invitation to the public to subscribe to any shares in or the debentures of the company.

If a private company contravenes any of the aforesaid three provisions, it ceases to be private company and loses all the exemptions and privileges which a private company is entitled.

Following are some of the privileges and exemptions of a private limited company:-

  1. Mimimum number is members is 2 (7 in case of public companies)

  2. Prohibition of allotment of the shares or debentures in certain cases unless statement in lieu of prospectus has been delivered to the Registrar of Companies does not apply.

  3. Restriction contained in Section 81 related to the rights issues of share capital does not apply. A special resolution to issue shares to non-members is not required in case of a private company.

  4. Restriction contained in Section 149 on commencement of business by a company does not apply. A private company does not need a separate certificate of commencement of business.

  5. Provisions of Section 165 relating to statutory meeting and submission of statutory report does not apply.

  6. One (if 7 or less members are present) or two members (if more than 7 members are present ) present in person at a meeting of the company can demand a poll.

  7. In case of a private company which not a subsidiary of a public limited company or in the case of a private company of which the entire paid up share capital is held by the one or more body corporates incorporated outside India, no person other than the member of the company concerned shall be entiled to inspect or obtain the copies of profit and loss account of that company.

  8. Minimum number of directors is only two. (3 in case of a public company)

The Company Law Board on being satisfied that the infringement of the aforesaid 3 conditions was accidental or due to inadvertence or that on other grounds, it just an equitable to grant relief, may grant relief to the company from the consequences of such infringement. The infringement of the aforesaid 3 conditions does not automatically convert a private company into a public company. It continues to remain a private company; it merely ceases to be entitled to the privileges and exemptions available to a private company.

3.Companies deemed to be public limited company:
A private company will be treated as a deemed public limited company in any of the following circumstances :-

  1. Where at least 25% of the paid up share capital of a private company is held by one or more bodies corporate, the private company shall automatically become the public company on and from the date on which the aforesaid percentage is so held.
  2. Where the annual average turnover of the private company during the period of three consecutive financial years is not less than Rs 25 crores, the private company shall be, irrespective of its paid up share capital, become a deemed public company.
  3. Where not less than 25% of the paid up capital of a public company limited is held by the private company, then the private company shall become a public company on and from the date on which the aforesaid percentage is so held.
  4. Where a private company accepts deposits after the invitation is made by advertisement or renews deposits from the public (other than from its members or directors or their relatives), such companies shall become public company on and from date such acceptance or renewal is first made.

4.Limited and Unlimited companies:
Companies may be limited or unlimited companies. Company may be limited by shares or limited by guarantee.

  1. Company limited by shares In this case, the liability of members is limited to the amount of uncalled share capital. No member of company limited by the shares can be called upon to pay more than the face value of shares or so much of it as is remaining unpaid. Members have no liability in case of fully paid up shares.
  2. Company limited by the guarantee A company limited by guarantee is a registered company having the liability of its members limited by its memorandum of association to such amount as the members may respectively thereby undertake to pay if necessary on liquidation of the company. The liability of the members to pay the guaranteed amount arises only when the company has gone into liquidation and not when it is a going concern. A guarantee company may be a company with share capital or without share capital.

Unlimited Company: The liability of members of an unlimited company is unlimited. Therefore their liability is similar to that of the liability of the partners of a partnership firm.

5.Section 25 Companies: Under the Companies Act, 1956, the name of a public limited company must end with the word 'Limited' and the name of a private limited company must end with the word 'Private Limited'. However, under Section 25, the Central Government may allow comapnies to remove the word "Limited / Private Limited" from the name if the following conditions are satisfied :-

  1. The company is formed for promoting commerce, science, art, religion, charity or other socially useful objects
  2. The company does not intend to pay dividend to its members but apply its profits and other income in promotion of its objects.

6.Holding and Subsidiary companies
A company shall be deemed to be subsidiary of another company if :-

  1. That other company controls the composition of its board of directors ; or

  2. That other company holds more than half in face value of its equity share capital

  3. Where the first mentioned company is subsidiary company of any company which that other's subsidiary. eg Company B is subsidiary of the Company A and Company C is subsidiary of Company B, therefore Company C is subsidiary of Company A.

The control of the composition of the Board of Directors of the company means that the holding company has the power at its discretion to appoint or remove all or majority of directors of the subsidiary company without consent or concurrence of any other person.

7.Government Companies
Means any company in which not less than 51% of the paid up share capital is held by the Central Government or any State Government or partly by the Central Government and partly by the one or more State Governments and includes a company which is a subsidiary of a government company. Government Companies are also governed by the provisions of the Companies Act. However, the Central Government may direct that certain provisions of the Companies Act shall not apply or shall apply only with such exceptions, modifications and adaptions as may be specified to such government companies.

8. Foreign Companies
Means a company incorporated in a country outside India under the law of that other country and has established the place of business in India.

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