Construction Company Insolvencies: How They Impact Subcontractors & Suppliers

Agama Law Associates


ALA is a boutique commercial law practice offering end-to-end corporate-commercial legal solutions to Indian and foreign businesses. We offer a wide range of services tailored across sectors for private clients, startups and mature businesses. We have a cost-effective technology based model supported by a large network of associates. Commercial transactions and advisory is our forte, which includes contract management and standardization. Our disputes profile is advising and strategizing from a pre-dispute stage, and managing and driving the litigation across all courts and tribunals including the High Court, the NCLT and SAT
The Indian construction industry is a dynamic engine of growth, but it's not without its challenges. One significant hurdle for subcontractors and suppliers lies in the unfortunate reality of construction company insolvencies.
India Insolvency/Bankruptcy/Re-Structuring
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The Indian construction industry is a dynamic engine of growth, but it's not without its challenges. One significant hurdle for subcontractors and suppliers lies in the unfortunate reality of construction company insolvencies. When a main contractor goes belly up, the financial shockwaves can ripple down the supply chain, leaving subcontractors and suppliers holding the bag for unpaid invoices.

This article unpacks the impact of construction company insolvencies, explores proactive strategies for mitigation, and offers valuable insights for navigating this complex scenario.

International Considerations: Cross-Border Disputes and Strategies

With India's construction sector increasingly venturing into international projects, the potential for cross-border disputes arising from insolvency becomes a looming concern. Understanding jurisdictional nuances is crucial. Contracts should clearly specify the governing law and dispute resolution mechanism, be it arbitration or litigation in a designated forum. Exploring international payment security instruments like letters of credit or parent company guarantees can also provide an added layer of protection.

Risk Management Strategies: Proactive Steps to Mitigate Disputes

Taking proactive steps can significantly reduce the financial fallout from a main contractor insolvency. Here are some key strategies:

Scrutinize Financials: Before entering any agreement, due diligence is paramount. Review the main contractor's financial health and track record. Are there any red flags suggesting potential financial difficulties? This could include a history of late payments to other subcontractors, delays in project completion, or frequent changes in management. Consider engaging a financial analyst to assess the contractor's balance sheet and cash flow statements.

Negotiate Favorable Payment Terms: Stand firm on securing favorable payment terms. Aim for shorter payment cycles and consider milestone-based payments to ensure a steady cash flow. For example, negotiate for a portion of the payment upon delivery of materials or completion of specific stages of the project. While lengthy payment cycles may seem standard practice, don't be afraid to push back and propose terms that better suit your financial needs.

Secure Payment Protection Mechanisms: Explore payment protection mechanisms like advance payment guarantees, performance bonds, or retention clauses. These instruments can provide a safety net if the main contractor defaults on payment.

Advance Payment Guarantees: An advance payment guarantee issued by a reputable bank assures the return of an agreed-upon amount if the main contractor fails to fulfill its contractual obligations.

Performance Bonds: Performance bonds act as a financial guarantee that the main contractor will complete the project as per the agreed-upon specifications. In case of non-performance, the subcontractor or supplier can claim compensation from the surety company that issued the bond.

Retention Clauses: Retention clauses allow subcontractors and suppliers to withhold a portion of the invoice amount until the project reaches a specific stage or is completed in its entirety. This retained amount serves as a buffer against potential non-payment by the main contractor.

Draft Robust Contracts: Don't underestimate the power of a well-drafted contract. Partner with a lawyer specializing in construction law to ensure your contract clearly outlines:

  • Payment terms, including timelines and methods of payment.
  • Dispute resolution procedures, outlining the preferred course of action in case of disagreements.
  • Termination rights for both parties, including clear provisions for termination in the event of insolvency from the main contractor. This should also address the process for recovering outstanding payments in such a scenario.

Maintain Detailed Records: Scrupulous record-keeping is essential. Maintain meticulous documentation of all work performed, materials supplied, and communication with the main contractor. This includes copies of invoices, delivery receipts, and project progress reports. Detailed records will be invaluable for substantiating claims in case of insolvency proceedings.

Monitor Project Progress: Don't be a passive participant. Regularly monitor project progress and identify any potential red flags that might indicate financial difficulties on the part of the main contractor. This could include delays in payments, changes in subcontractors, or rumors of financial strain. Early detection allows you to take proactive measures, such as withholding further deliveries or initiating legal action.

Build Strong Relationships: Developing strong working relationships with key personnel at the main contractor firm can be beneficial. Open communication and fostering trust can provide early warnings of potential financial issues and allow for timely course correction.

Business Regulatory Advisory

The Indian construction sector is undergoing continuous regulatory evolution. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), 2016 offers streamlined frameworks for dealing with insolvency. Subcontractors and suppliers can leverage the IBC to file claims and potentially recover dues.

Utilizing the IBC for Claim Recovery

The IBC offers a structured and time-bound process for resolving insolvency. Here's how subcontractors and suppliers can leverage the IBC:

  • Filing Claims: Upon learning of a main contractor's insolvency proceedings, subcontractors and suppliers have the right to file claims with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board (IBB). The claim should clearly outline the amount owed and supporting documentation.
  • Priority of Claims: The IBC categorizes claims into different classes with varying priorities during distribution of assets. Understanding these classifications is crucial for maximizing the chance of recovering dues. For instance, secured creditors with guarantees often enjoy higher priority compared to unsecured creditors like subcontractors.
  • Participation in the Resolution Process: Subcontractors and suppliers can participate in the insolvency resolution process by attending creditor meetings and voting on restructuring plans or liquidation proposals.

Beyond the IBC: Additional Regulatory Considerations

The IBC is a vital tool, but there are additional regulations that impact how subcontractors and suppliers navigate insolvency. These include:

  • The Payment Security Mechanism Act, 2016: This act mandates government departments and public sector undertakings to make advance payments to certain categories of suppliers. While not universally applicable, it offers some protection for specific segments within the construction supply chain.
  • State-Specific Regulations: Some Indian states have enacted their own regulations pertaining to payment security in the construction sector. It's advisable to stay informed about relevant regulations in the state where the project is located.

By staying updated on the evolving regulatory landscape and proactively utilizing available legal frameworks, subcontractors and suppliers can enhance their chances of recovering dues in the unfortunate event of a main contractor insolvency.

Adapting to the Needs of Industry Professionals

The impact of construction company insolvency varies depending on the size of the subcontractor or supplier. Large corporations often have the financial muscle to weather temporary cash flow disruptions. However, SMEs are more vulnerable and may find themselves in an existential crisis when faced with unpaid invoices.

The construction industry encompasses a wide range of sectors, each with its own risk profile. A plumbing subcontractor may be more susceptible to financial losses from insolvency compared to a large cement supplier. Understanding these nuances is crucial for adopting the most appropriate risk mitigation strategies.


Construction company insolvencies are a harsh reality, but by being proactive and employing the right strategies, subcontractors and suppliers can significantly minimize financial risks. Investing in strong contracts, exploring payment protection mechanisms, staying updated on evolving regulations, and seeking legal advice are key steps towards safeguarding your business interests. Remember, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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