Reserve Bank of India
Legislation UpdatesNotifications

On 12-07-2022, the Reserve Bank of India (‘RBI’) imposed a penalty of Rs 1 crore and 67.80 lakh on Ola Financial Services Private Ltd (‘Ola’) for not complying with certain provisions of Master Direction on Prepaid Payment Instruments (‘PPI’) dated 27-08-2021 and Master Direction Know Your Customer (‘KYC’) Direction dated 25-02-2016.

Key Points:

  1. Ola was non-compliant with KYC directions issued by RBI to which a show cause was issued as to why penalty should not be imposed.
  2. On the basis of Ola’s response, RBI concluded that there is non-compliance and warranted imposition of monetary penalty.
  3. The penalty is based on deficiencies in regulatory compliance and the intention is not to pronounce validity of any transaction or agreement entered into by the entity with its customers.
  4. The penalty has been imposed in exercise of powers vested in RBI under Section 30 of the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007 that should be paid within a period of 30 days from the date of issue.
Legal RoundUpTribunals/Regulatory Bodies/Commissions Monthly Roundup

Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL)


State commission disallows benefit of increase in the tariff based on the change in law provision; Tribunal directs reconsideration

A Coram of R.K. Gauba (Officiating Chairperson) and Sandesh Kumar Sharma (Technical Member) decided on an appeal which was filed by Solar Power Project Developer (“SPD”) assailing order passed by respondent Bihar Electricity Regulatory Commission (“the State Commission”) disallowing the benefit of increase in the tariff based on the change in law provision with respect to increased Operation and Maintenance (O&M) costs of its 10MW solar power generating system.

Read full report here…


Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT)


AFT grants war injury pension to soldier who sustained injuries resulting in disability during Operation Hifazat

The Bench of Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary (Member J) and Vice Admiral HCS Bisht (Member A), granted war injury pension to the ex-serviceman who had sustained injuries resulting in disability during Operation Hifazat.

Read full report here…


Arbitral Tribunal, New Delhi


Arbitral Tribunal finds SJDA at fault; directs to refund bid amount of Rs 84.24 crores to the claimant in New Township Project

“No permission for conversion of land was obtained and, therefore, even if all other conditions were fulfilled, the Claimant-Developer could not have commenced construction activities on the agricultural lands without obtaining conversion of land use.”

Read full report here…


 Competition Commission of India (CCI)


Apple charging a commission of up to 30% on all payments made through its in-app purchase system, is a violation of its dominant position? CCI orders investigation 

“Some consumers may have preference for closed ecosystem like Apple and others may have a preference for open ecosystems like that of Google.” 

Read full report here… 

Why did CCI suspend the Amazon-Future deal? Detailed analysis of CCI order imposing Rs 202 crores penalty on Amazon

“Amazon had misled the Commission to believe, through false statements and material omissions, that the Combination and its purpose were the interest of Amazon in the business of FCPL.”

Read full report here…

Is Google abusing dominant position in news aggregation? CCI gives prima facie findings; discusses Snippets, Mirror Image Websites, Paywall Options, etc.

“Google appears to operate as a gateway between various news publishers on the one hand and news readers on the other. Another alternative for the news publisher is to forgo the traffic generated by Google for them, which would be unfavourable to their revenue generation.”

Read full report here…


 Customs Excise & Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT)


“Obiter dictum” not legally binding as precedent; jurisdictional commissioner cautioned for filing frivolous applications

Suvendu Kumar Pati (Judicial Member) dismissed an appeal which was filed in response to the order passed by this Tribunal for rectification of mistake on the ground that the order to the extent of availment of service of outdoor catering was not proper.

Read full report here…

Jurisdiction for claim of refund filed/initiated to be dealt under the provision Central Excise law and not by the provision of CGST law

Ashok Jindal (Judicial Member) dismissed the application filed by the Revenue (CCE & ST, Panchkula) for ratification of mistake in a final order by the Tribunal which was noticed by the Applicant. The Tribunal dealt with two issues (a) whether to ratify previous order & (b) to deal with the jurisdiction

Read full report here…

Is there any provision under Cenvat Credit Rules, 2004 or Finance Act, 1994 for reversal of CENVAT credit for services provided for which no consideration is received by an assessee? CESTAT analyses

“CENVAT Credit Rules or Finance Act there was no provision for reversal of CENVAT credit for the services provided for which no consideration for service provided was received by an assessee.”

Read full report here…


District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Kolkata


Consumer cannot be forced to pay “service charge” in a restaurant: Consumer Forum finds conduct of restaurant contrary to principles of Consumer Protection Act

“The OPs must have been aware of the guidelines of Fair Trade Practice related to changing of service charge from the consumers by hotels/restaurant issued by Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India, inter alia, stipulating that service charge on hotel and restaurant bill is “totally voluntarily” and not mandatory.”

Read full report here…


Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT)


If lessee is not actual owner of property, can actual rental expenses be claimed on return of income? ITAT decides

“The assessee-company has merely taken the assets on lease from the owner, and it is accordingly eligible to claim actual rental expenses in the return of income.”

Read full report here… 

Can merely disowning bank accounts exempt assessee from paying tax? Read why ITAT approved addition of Rs 12.81 Crores under S.68 of Income Tax Act

“Merely disowning the bank accounts by the assessee does not lead to the conclusion that the accounts are not maintained by him when there is a direct evidence contrary to the contention of the assessee.”

Read full report here…


 National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC)


Homebuyers cannot be expected to wait indefinitely for taking possession: NCDRC allows consumer complaint against Builder, directs refund, imposes costs

Commission dealt with a complaint filed under Section 21 read with Section 2(c) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 by the complainant in respect of a plot allotted to him promoted by the OP, claiming deficiency of service due to delay in handing over possession of the plot allotted and claiming refund of amount deposited with compensation.

Read full report here… 

Insurer refuses to issue insurance policy as Risk Confirmation letter obtained on concealment of material fact by Insurance Broker: Policy will be vitiated? NCDRC answers

“Section 19 of Contract Act, 1872, provides that when the consent of an agreement is caused by coercion, fraud, or misrepresentation, the agreement is voidable at the option of the party whose consent is so caused.”

Read full report here…

Plastic pieces found in slices of bread, but compensation denied to consumer. Read why NCDRC set aside State Commission’s order of compensation

Ram Surat Maurya (Presiding Member) addressed a matter wherein Britannia was alleged to have pieces of plastic in its bread, but the complainant failed to prove that the bread was manufactured by the said company.

Read full report here…

Minor treated for “Measles” instead of “Stevens-Johnson Syndrome” due to wrong diagnosis and leading to medical negligence: Read detailed report on NCDRC’s decision

“The patient at her young age of 12 years suffered very serious and potentially fatal SJ syndrome. It was the patient’s sheer good luck that she survived in spite of such grossly inappropriate/inadequate treatment at every stage.”

Read full report here…


National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) 


Is it proper for NCLT to record finding regarding default when RP is yet to consider it and submit report? NCLAT discusses Ss. 95, 97, 99 IBC

“…there cannot be any dispute with the statutory scheme as contained in Section 97 that when application is filed by the Resolution Professional under Section 95, the Adjudicating Authority shall direct the Board within seven days of the date of the application to confirm that disciplinary proceedings pending against the Resolution Professional or not and the Board was required within seven days to communicate in writing either confirming the appointment of the Resolution Professional or rejecting the appointment of the Resolution Professional and nominating another Resolution Professional.” 

Read full report here…

Aggrieved with the categorisation as ‘unsecured creditor’, Tribunal secures ‘secured creditor’, having relinquished the security interest

The Coram of Ashok Bhushan J, (Chairperson), and Dr Alok Srivastava (Technical Member) while accepting the appeal and rejecting the claim of the respondent, the Tribunal was of the opinion that the Adjudicating Authority committed an error in rejecting the claim of the appellant to be ‘secured creditor’.

Read full report here…

Is approval with 90% vote of CoC required before allowing withdrawal of CIRP application even where CoC was not yet constituted? NCLAT clarifies law on S. 12-A IBC 

“…when the application is filed prior to the constitution of Committee of Creditors, the requirement of ninety percent vote of Committee of Creditors is not applicable and the Adjudicating Authority has to consider the Application without requiring approval by ninety percent vote of the Committee of Creditors.”

Read full report here…

Dominant position and Predatory Pricing or Win-Win for riders and drivers? NCLAT upholds CCI’s decision

“We do not think that Ola could operate independently of other competitors in the relevant market, and hence it did not enjoy a dominant position in the market.”

Read full report here…

Once Adjudicating Authority approves Resolution Plan, does it still remains a confidential document? Read what NCLAT says

“The category of creditors including the Members of the suspended Board of Directors or the partners of the corporate persons, who are entitled to participate in the meeting of the Committee of Creditors are entitled to receive copies of all documents.”

Read full report here…


 National Green Tribunal (NGT)


Rampant noise pollution, incessant use of horns; a Deplorable state of affairs! NGT finds Rajasthan in contempt of Supreme Court’s order 

While addressing the issue of pressure/air horns and motor vehicles being driven with intolerable sound in Rajasthan, the Bench comprising of Justice Sheo Kumar Singh (Judicial Member) and Dr. Arun Kumar Verma (Expert Member) found the State of Rajasthan in contempt of the Supreme Court’s order and issued notice to the state government to reply within three weeks.

Read full report here…


Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI)


Twitter, Telegram and the tattered chances-Illicit act of swindlers recommending stock tips on social media; Tribunal acts immediately

“The tips circulated through the Channel create an inducing impact which are then followed by the subscribers and ironically, such stock tips may also prove to be true, if large number of recipients of such tips believe it and collectively act on it. Slowly and gradually, after seeing the price of the said thinly traded scrip actually rising, more and more subscribers start believing in the tips and start acting on it, which further strengthens the belief of such tips being genuine, as large number of individuals end up acting on such tips and by their collective buying actions, convert the deceitful, specious and baseless tips to realty”

Read full report here…

‘Billionaire’ dream turns into dread-Unauthorsied investment advisory amounted to fraud & misrepresentation

S.K. Mohanty, Whole Time Member while affirming an ex-parte interim order of SEBI, was of the view that the activities of the Noticees, Billionaire Solutions Pvt. Ltd. (Sole proprietor Akash Jaiswal) was covered within the definition of “fraud” defined under regulation 2(1)(c) of the PFUTP Regulations, 2003. And therefore was held liable for the violation of provisions of Section 12A (a), (b), (c) of the SEBI Act, 1992, Regulations 3 (b), (c) & (d), 4(1), 4(2)(k) of the SEBI (Prohibition of Fraudulent and Unfair Trade Practices relating to Securities Market) Regulations, 2003 (PFUTP Regulations, 2003).

Read full report here…

District CourtHigh CourtsLegal RoundUpTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Here are some of the interesting Legal Stories from Week 4 of January 2022


Bishop Franco Mulakkal; A victim of faction feud in the Church and group fights of nuns? Read why Sessions Court acquitted the Bishop in nun rape case

 While hearing a case which had lead nation to one of the most controversial outbreak and had lifted the veil to showcase the alleged atrocities and harassment behind the four walls of the Church, Gopakumar G., Addl. Sessions Judge held that what seem to be a disturbing case of sexual violence by a Bishop, intoxicated with power, authority and position was nothing but a faction feud in the Church and the victim was a mere scapegoat in the hands of priests.

Read full report here…


Consumer cannot be forced to pay “service charge” in a restaurant: Consumer Forum finds conduct of restaurant contrary to principles of Consumer Protection Act

While holding against the service charge, charged by a restaurant, Consumer Forum directed for return of the amount charged as “service charge” along with compensation.

Read full report here…


Did Ola abuse its dominant position? Read to know

 NCLAT held that Ola’s below-cost pricing was not predatory pricing with a view to dislodging any competitor from the market but towards establishing itself as an effective and reliable brand in the market and also opening up a latent market to its advantage.

Read full report here…


Son ousted benighted widowed mother, deprived her right to “live a normal life” apart from maintaining and supporting her livelihood

G.S. Kulkarni, J., while addressing another unfortunate case concerning a mother who was ousted from the tenement she owned by her own son expressed that,

“This appears to be another clear case where the petitioner(son) has no other intention but to enjoy the tenement exclusively, ousting the roof over his mother’s head, taking advantage of her incapacity at such an old age.”

Read full report here…


Husband’s company can have ‘Virat Kohli’ as a brand ambassador, but cannot provide maintenance to wife: Man tried appearing as a pauper? Saket Courts adjudicates

 While addressing a case wherein the maintenance was sought by wife, Saket Courts held that,

“It cannot be believed that a person who was capable of supporting a family by getting married, would all of a sudden become devoid of all sources of income.”

Read full report here…


‘On Judgement Day, God shall admonish petitioner for committing un-Christian act’: Read weather Madras HC holds Catholic Priest prima facie accountable under S. 295A IPC for using ‘Bharat Mata’ and ‘Bhuma Devi’ in offensive manner

 “Bhuma Devi is considered as a Goddess by all believing Hindus. I use the expression “believing” because, even materialists, rationalists and non-believers also can be counted as Hindus. I may add tongue-in-cheek that even the great iconoclast and rationalist Periyar did not cease to be a Hindu. Bharat Mata evokes a deeply emotional veneration in a very large number of Hindus. She is often portrayed carrying the national flag and riding a lion. She is to many Hindus a Goddess in her own right.”

Read full report here…


Can merely disowning bank accounts exempt assessee from paying tax? Read why ITAT approved addition of Rs 12.81 Crores under S.68 of Income Tax Act

Stating that, “Urgent needs invite urgent action”, ITAT while addressing a very significant matter wherein assessee did not disclose the two bank accounts operated by him to the Income Tax Department, expressed that,

“Merely disowning the bank accounts by the assessee does not lead to the conclusion that the accounts are not maintained by him when there is a direct evidence contrary to the contention of the assessee.”

Read full report here…


Provision of Personal Hearing would defeat the purpose of Faceless Assessment Scheme? Del HC decides

The Division Bench of Manmohan and Navin Chawla, JJ., while focusing on the principles of natural justice and right to personal hearing observed that,

Faceless Assessment Scheme does not mean no personal hearing.

An assessee has a vested right to personal hearing and the same has to be given, if an assessee asks for it. 

Read full report here…


SPOTIFY v. POTIFY | Can the mark POTIFY conjure up mark SPOTIFY? Here’s detailed analysis of US Patent and Trademark Office decision in trademark clash

United States Patent and Trademark Office decided whether SPOTIFY is entitled against dilution by blurring under 15 U.S.C Section 1125(c).

Read full report here…


53-year-old man molested a 9-year-old minor boy by pressing his private parts: Court sentences man under POCSO Act

Jayakrishnan, Special Judge addressed a case wherein a minor boy aged 9 years old was subjected cruelly by a 53-year-old man who squeezed the boy’s private part causing him pain.

Read full report here…

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT):  The Coram of Justice Jarat Kumar Jain (Judicial Member) and Dr Alok Srivastava (Technical Member) held that Ola’s below-cost pricing was not predatory pricing with a view to dislodging any competitor from the market but towards establishing itself as an effective and reliable brand in the market and also opening up a latent market to its advantage.

Two appeals filed by appellant Meru Travel Solutions (P) Ltd. and Fast Track Call Cab (P) Ltd. assailed the common order passed by the Competition Commission of India under Section 26(6) of the Competition Act, 2002.

Commission decided that on the basis of information submitted by Fast Track and Meru and analysis of DG’s investigation report, the dominant position of Ola in the relevant market and abuse of its dominant position was not established and Ola had not been found to have anti-competitive agreements with drivers.

By the present decision, both the appeals will be disposed off.

Analysis and Discussion

Technology | Ola v. Other Radio Taxis

Tribunal noted that before the advent of technology-leveraged, network-based aggregator models, taxi services such as Meru, Fast Track, Easy Cab, Taxi For Sure etc. also leveraged technology to pride ease of booking and taxi ride, yet Ola’s model differed from them in many ways, particularly its use of the smartphone-based application which could be used with remarkable ease by the riders and provide taxi services anywhere in the area within minutes of ‘hailing’ through the mobile phone.

Hence, it could not be said that Ola employed technology in a much more effective and enabling fashion to provide services which previous radio taxi operators were not able to.

Market Share

Ola market share is seen to increase from 5-6% in 2012-13 to 59-60% in 2014-15 and to 61% in 2015-16. Thus, there was a significant rising trend noted upto January 2015, whereafter Ola market share had been plateauing or witnessing a gradual decline.

Though the active fleet size increased but in Tribunal’s opinion merely the size of the fleet does not decide the dominant position of a particular radio taxi service provider.

“We note that the technological edge that the platform crested by Ola which provide ease of taxi bookings, rider security, payments, drivers welfare made many riders comfortable with the network of Ola. The customer incentives worked in conjunction with these facilities and conveniences to attract riders to Ola and a certain brand image was created and reinforced over a period of time.”

Further, another highlighting factor noted was that Ola was itself facing competition in the relevant market from established players such as Meru and Fast Track and later from Uber while it was trying to establish its brand.

Below Cost Pricing | Predatory pricing by Ola?

In Tribunal’s opinion, the strategy adopted by Ola was in view of the market conditions, helped by a heavy infusion of foreign funding. Hence, there was no below-cost pricing by Ola for any sustained period of time which could be labelled as predatory pricing and abuse of its dominant position in the market.

Coram also agreed with the finding of DG that the below-cost pricing adopted from May-June 2014 onwards could be treated as the variable cost which, as argued by Senior Counsel of Respondent Ola, was the expenditure that Ola undertook to establish its brand in the market and increase its market share.

It was also noted that Uber also adopted an almost similar network approach for the provision of radio taxi, hence Tribunal was inclined to agree with Ola’s arguments that Uber was a significant competitor in the relevant market and Ola was responding to pricing actions of Uber while trying to establish itself in the Bengaluru market of radio taxi services.

Tribunal found that the situation in the present matter was akin to that in the matter CCI v. Fast Way Transmission (P) Ltd., (2018) 4 SCC 316, wherein the Supreme Court held that when an enterprise enjoys a dominant position in the relevant market, it is enabled to operate independently of competitive forces or affect its competitors or consumers or that relevant market in its favour.

“We do not think that Ola could operate independently of other competitors in the relevant market, and hence it did not enjoy a dominant position in the market.”

Conclusion

Stating that Ola started from a low market share of about 20%, Tribunal held that it cannot agree that Ola was at that initial time in a dominant position and was trying to push out competitors from the market by employing below-cost, predatory pricing.  An increase in its market share over a period of time, was due to a combination of factors, of which below-cost pricing was one.

Another significant factor, with regard to Ola’s agreements with its drivers, Tribunal noted that the agreements cover many aspects, which concern welfare measures for drivers and helping them source credit for buying vehicles. The incentives provided to drivers are dynamic and not constant in time. The drivers have the option to shift to other networks depending on their requirements and convenience.

Hence the driver’s agreement that Ola has with drivers with entirely optional and does not in any way bind the drivers to Ola’s network in any way.

Therefore, Tribunal did not find the driver’s agreements anti-competitive in violation of Section 3 of the Act.

Ola is working on generating demand through customer discounts and then bringing in more drivers to cater to the increased demand. Ola tries to create a win- win for the riders and drivers, and of course to its enterprise.

Lastly, Tribunal held that the Orders of CCI do not require any interference and therefore the appeals were dismissed. [Meru Travels Solution (P) Ltd. v. Competition Commission of India, 2022 SCC OnLine NCLAT 37, decided on 7-1-2022]


Advocates before the Tribunal:

For Appellant:

Ms. Sonal Jain, Mr. Udayan Jain, Mr. Abir Roy, Mr. Ishkaran Singh, Ms. Kajal Sharma and Ms. Riya Dhingra, Mr. Vivek Pandey, Mr. Raj Surana, Mr. Ishaan Chakrabarti, Advocates.

For Respondents:

Ms. Shama Nargis, Deputy Director, CCI.

Mr. Ajay Kumar Tandon for R-1, CCI. Ms. Purnima Singh, Ms. Neha Bhardwaj, Ms. Shivani Malik, Ms. Astha Baderiya, Advocate for R-1.

Mr. Rajshekhar Rao, Sr. Advocate with Ms. Nisha Kaur Uberoi, Mr. Gautam Chawla, Mr. Raghav Kacker, Ms. Sonal Sarda and Mr. Samriddha Gooptu, Ms. Sakshi Agarwal, Mr. Ishan Arora, Mr. Madhav Kapoor, Advocates for R-2.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Competition Commission of India (CCI): Coram comprising Ashok Kumar Gupta (Chairperson) and Sangeeta Verma and Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi (Members) took suo motu cognizance of the matter regarding alleged prevention of entry of app-based taxi aggregator companies in the State of Goa.

Based on newspaper reports regarding alleged concerted action to prevent entry app-based taxi aggregator companies in the State of Goa, Commission took up the present matter suo motu against tourist taxi unions operating in the State of Goa.

Another significant issue in the matter was that the constant strikes by various taxi unions, tourists were getting affected in Goa.

What were the demands of the above-stated Unions?

  • Crackdown on Illegal Taxi
  • Cancellation of installation of speed governors.

Prima Facie Observation of the Commission

Taxi Unions conduct in not allowing any app-based service providers in the State of Goa was putting a restrain on services based on technology and limiting the competition, technical development as well as investment in provision of relevant services.

Another observation was that the reforms by the State Government in terms of bringing transparency and improvement in the delivery of services was also being prevented.

The above resulted in restriction to the choice of consumers which was in contravention of Section 3(3)(b) read with Section 3(1) of the Competition Act.

In view of the above observations, DG was directed to conduct an investigation and submit a report.

What was in the DG’s report?

DG found the conduct of taxi unions to be in violation of Sections 3(1) and 3(3)(b) of the Competition Act.

DG noted that there are no fare meters and organised groups of taxi operators in Goa control the rates as well as the routes. Further, it was observed that the taxi operators in North and South Goa use different rate charts and tourists in Goa have to pay more than thousands of rupees even for short distance travel.

During investigation, certain violent incidents were reported alleging manhandling of Zoomcar users and their vehicles damaged by local taxi union operators.

Commission’s Observation on perusing DG Report

Coram noted that no material was placed in regard to conduct of OPs indulging in strikes except few YouTube videos, Facebook Blogs and news clippings and such material remained uncorroborated and unauthenticated.

DG failed to examine the reasons mentioned by the OPs for resorting to strikes, which included increase in fees for permits, backdoor entry of app-based taxi aggregators and installation of speed governors in taxis. OP-4 had pointed out certain other issues such as:

proposed Mopa Airport, Speed Governors, Harassment of taxi drivers at the airport, frequent requests to the Government of Goa for putting up taxi fare rates at all tourist destinations, to stop private cars operating as illegal taxies, and to stop private cars being given on rent for self-driving’

Restriction on entry of OLA and UBER

Authorised representative of Uber stated that Uber did not even apply for any license for starting app-based taxi services in the State of Goa.

With regard to OLA, DG failed to examine the reasons behind its exit from the State of Goa, though it was noted that Shekhar Dutta, Senior Director, ANI Technologies (OLA), had stated that they had received threats from Taxi Owners Associations (without naming any specific OPs) and the association members vandalized the assets and did gherao of their office premises without elaborating any details of such incident in precise manner.

“…meeting with head of political executive in a joint representation, raising grievances cannot be said to violate the provisions of Competition Act.”

Though nothing on record was placed to show that the OPs gave any joint representation to the State Government.

Concluding the matter, Coram observed that State of Goa took a policy decision and issued guidelines titled as “Guidelines for Taxi Operator/ Radio Taxis/ Rent A Car and Taxi App Aggregators in the State of Goa” as per which app-based taxi aggregators were permitted to operate and were allowed to have range bound dynamic pricing which was on lines of the business model of OLA & Uber.

“despite the opposition of OPs, the State of Goa does not appear to have acceded to or conceded to the demands of the OPs and the policy allowing entry of app based taxi aggregators was eventually notified.”

Hence no case of contravention of Sections 3(1) read with 3(3) of the Competition Act was made out. [Alleged anti-competitive conduct of taxi unions in the State of Goa, In re., Suo Motu Case No. 2 of 2018, decided on 22-06-2021]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a plea seeking inquiry into the alleged anti-competitive practices of Ola and Uber of entering into price-fixing agreement, the 3-judge bench of RF Nariman*, KM Joseph, Krishna Murari, JJ has refused to interfere with the concurrent finding of CCI and NCLAT that Ola and Uber do not facilitate cartelization or anti-competitive practices between drivers, who are independent individuals, who act independently of each other, so as to attract the application of section 3 of the Competition Act, 2002.

Why was an inquiry sought?

An informant sought that the Competition Commission of India initiate an inquiry, under section 26(2) of the Competition Act, 2002, into the alleged anti-competitive conduct of ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd. [Ola], and Uber India Systems Pvt. Ltd., Uber B.V. and Uber Technologies Inc. [Uber], alleging that they entered into price-fixing agreements in contravention of section 3(1) read with section 3(3)(a) of the Act, and engaged in resale price maintenance in contravention of section 3(1) 1 read with section 3(4)(e) of the Act. According to the Informant, Uber and Ola provide radio taxi services and essentially operate as platforms through mobile applications which allow riders and drivers, that is, two sides of the platform, to interact. Due to algorithmic pricing, neither are riders able to negotiate fares with individual drivers for rides that are booked through the apps, nor are the drivers able to offer any discounts. Thus, the pricing algorithm takes away the freedom of riders and drivers to choose the best price on the basis of competition, as both have to accept the price set by the pricing algorithm.

Further, despite the fact that the drivers are independent entities who are not employees or agents of Ola or Uber, the driver is bound to accept the trip fare reflected in the app at the end of the trip, without having any discretion insofar as the same is concerned. The drivers receive their share of the fare only after the deduction of a commission by Ola and Uber for the services offered to the rider.

What did the counsels say?

Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing on behalf of Uber, walked the Court through the concurrent findings of fact of the CCI and the NCLAT and said that every driver of a taxi cab, who uses the Ola or Uber app, can have several such apps including both Ola, Uber and the apps of some of their competitors, and can take private rides de hors these apps as well.

Advocate Rajshekhar Rao, appearing for Ola, agreed with Dr. Singhvi’s submissions on merit but questioned the locus standi of the informant, an “independent practitioner of law”. He, thus, prayed before the Supreme Court that “in such cases heavy costs should be imposed to deter such persons from approaching the CCI with frivolous and/or mala fide information, filed at the behest of competitors.”

Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh, appearing on behalf of the CCI, however, stated that though he would support the CCI’s Order closing the case, he would also support the right of the Appellant to approach the CCI with information.

What did the Supreme Court say?

Informant’s locus standi

A reading of the provisions of Competition Act, 2002 and the Competition Commission of India (General) Regulations, 2009 shows that “any person” may provide information to the CCI, which may then act upon it in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The definition of “person” in section 2(l) of the Act is an inclusive one and is extremely wide, including individuals of all kinds and every artificial juridical person.

Section 19(1) of the Act originally provided for the “receipt of a complaint” from any person, consumer or their association, or trade association. This expression was then substituted with the expression “receipt of any information in such manner and” by the 2007 Amendment. This substitution is not without significance.

A complaint could be filed only from a person who was aggrieved by a particular action, information may be received from any person, obviously whether such person is or is not personally affected. This is for the reason that the proceedings under the Act are proceedings in rem which affect the public interest. That the CCI may inquire into any alleged contravention of the provisions of the Act on its own motion, is also laid down in section 19(1) of the Act.

“Even while exercising suo motu powers, the CCI may receive information from any person and not merely from a person who is aggrieved by the conduct that is alleged to have occurred. This also follows from a reading of section 35 of the Act, in which the earlier expression “complainant or defendant” has been substituted by the expression, “person or an enterprise,” setting out that the informant may appear either in person, or through one or more agents, before the CCI to present the information that he has gathered.”

However, Section 45 of the Act is a deterrent against persons who provide information to the CCI, mala fide or recklessly, inasmuch as false statements and omissions of material facts are punishable with a penalty which may extend to the hefty amount of rupees one crore, with the CCI being empowered to pass other such orders as it deems fit.

“This, and the judicious use of heavy costs being imposed when the information supplied is either frivolous or mala fide, can keep in check what is described as the growing tendency of persons being “set up” by rivals in the trade.”

The 2009 Regulations also do not require the informant to state how he is personally aggrieved by the contravention of the Act, but only requires a statement of facts and details of the alleged contravention to be set out in the information filed. Also, regulation 25 shows that public interest must be foremost in the consideration of the CCI when an application is made to it in writing that a person or enterprise has substantial interest in the outcome of the proceedings, and such person may therefore be allowed to take part in the proceedings. Further,

“CCI must maintain confidentiality of the identity of an informant on a request made to it in writing, so that such informant be free from harassment by persons involved in contravening the Act.”

“Person aggrieved”

Since the CCI and the NCLAT deal with practices which have an adverse effect on competition in derogation of the interest of consumers, the Act vests powers in the CCI and enables it to act in rem, in public interest. Hence, a “person aggrieved” must, in the context of the Act, be understood widely and not be constructed narrowly.

Further, it is not without significance that the expressions used in sections 53B and 53T of the Act are “any person”, thereby signifying that all persons who bring to the CCI information of practices that are contrary to the provisions of the Act, could be said to be aggrieved by an adverse order of the CCI in case it refuses to act upon the information supplied. By way of contrast, section 53N(3) speaks of making payment to an applicant as compensation for the loss or damage caused to the applicant as a result of any contravention of the provisions of Chapter II of the Act, having been committed by an enterprise. By this sub-section, clearly, therefore, “any person” who makes an application for compensation, under sub-section (1) of section 53N of the Act, would refer only to persons who have suffered loss or damage, thereby, qualifying the expression “any person” as being a person who has suffered loss or damage.

It was, hence, noticed,

“when the CCI performs inquisitorial, as opposed to adjudicatory functions, the doors of approaching the CCI and the appellate authority, i.e., the NCLAT, must be kept wide open in public interest, so as to subserve the high public purpose of the Act.”

[Samir Agrawal v. Competition Commission on India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1024, decided on 15.12.2020]