Cyril Amarchand MangaldasExperts Corner

On 20-5-2020, in a significant competition law-related development, a Single Judge Bench of the High Court of Delhi (Delhi HC) passed a judgment[1] dismissing a petition filed by Monsanto[2] against the Competition Commission of India’s (CCI) investigation order. In the present matter, Monsanto approached the Delhi HC challenging the jurisdiction of CCI to investigate their licensing policies under Section 4 of the Competition Act, 2002 (Competition Act). It was argued that the issues arising out of their licensing arrangements should be subjected to the Controller of Patents (Controller) under the Patents Act, 1970 (Patents Act), and CCI does not have jurisdiction in this regard. However, the Delhi HC rejected the objections of the petitioners and upheld the jurisdiction of CCI to probe into such abusive conduct, despite the presence of a specific statutory regulator.

The judgment highlights certain overlapping and controversial issues between the Competition Act and the Patents Act, which have now been harmoniously settled by the Delhi HC. While dealing with the objections of the petitioners, the Delhi HC also clarified certain observations made by the Supreme Court of India (Supreme Court) in CCI v. Bharti Airtel Ltd.[3] (Bharti Airtel judgment.) In doing so, it particularly emphasised that the Bharti Airtel judgment is not an authority for extending the proposition that whenever there is a statutory regulator, the complaint must be first brought before the regulator and examination of a complaint by CCI is contingent upon the findings of such regulator.

Brief Facts

The genesis of the dispute is an information filed by certain cotton seed manufacturing companies[4] before CCI. Monsanto was the first company to develop and commercialise Bt cotton technology and registered its second generation of Bt cotton technology under the Patents Act. Monsanto had licensed this technology to its Indian joint venture company — MMBL, which sub-licensed it to various seed manufacturers in India (including the informants) on payment of certain non-refundable and a recurring royalty/fees (trait fee).

The informants inter alia alleged that MMLB and certain Monsanto group companies charged unreasonably high trait fee, imposed unfair terms and conditions through sub-licensing agreements, engaged in refusal to deal, etc., which resulted in denial of market access for the informants. CCI prima facie found merit in the informants’ allegations and accordingly passed an order under Section 26(1) of the Competition Act, thereby directing an investigation into the matter. Consequently,  Monsanto approached the Delhi HC challenging CCIs investigation order.

Key Issues for Determination

The Delhi HC delineated the following issues for consideration: (i) whether there was any irreconcilable conflict between the Competition Act and the Patents Act, and whether both the enactments could be construed harmoniously; (ii) whether Section 3(5) of the Competition Act excludes the applicability of the Competition Act in respect of any agreement, which relates to restraining infringement of any patent rights; and (iii) whether Bharti Airtel judgment[5] confers primacy to statutory regulators over CCI.

Irreconcilable Conflict between the Competition Act and the Patents Act

The Delhi HC relied on the Telefonaktiebolaget L.M. Ericsson v. CCI[6] (Telefonaktiebolaget L.M. Ericsson judgment) and the relevant provisions of both the enactments to observe that there was no irreconcilable conflict between the Competition Act and the Patents Act.

It was noted that the provisions of the Competition Act (i.e. Sections 62, 21 and 21-A) clearly indicate that the intention of the Central Legislature was not to repeal any other statute by enacting the Competition Act, rather it was to ensure that the provisions of the Competition Act are implemented in addition to the provisions of other statutes. Further, the remedies available under the Patents Act and the Competition Act are materially different from each other. It was also observed that in certain cases, it may be open for a prospective licensee to approach the Controller for grant of a compulsory licence, however, the same would not be inconsistent with CCI passing an appropriate order under Section 27 of the Competition Act.

Accordingly, it was held that the jurisdiction of CCI to entertain complaints regarding abuse of patent rights could not be excluded.

Whether Section 3(5) of the Competition Act is a Blanket Exemption

With respect to the allegation reimposition of unreasonable conditions on the informants (through sub-licensing agreements), the petitioners contended that they were well within their rights to impose such conditions by virtue of Section 3(5)(i) of the Competition Act.

Section 3(5)(i) of the Competition Act provides that Section 3 (which deals with anti-competitive agreements) would not restrict the rights of any person to restraint any infringement of, or to impose reasonable conditions, as necessary for protecting any of his rights which have been or may be conferred upon him under, inter alia, the Patents Act.

The petitioners submitted that Section 3(5)(i) of the Competition Act has two limbs. The first, which provides a blanket exclusion in respect of rights to restraint infringement of intellectual property rights (IPR); and the second, which relates to imposition of reasonable conditions, that may be necessary for protecting the IPR. It was emphasised that the term “reasonable” under Section 3(5)(i) is a qualifier only for conditions relating to patent protection and not patent infringement. Accordingly, the petitioners submitted that CCI lacks jurisdiction to examine the alleged anti-competitive clauses of the sub-licensing agreement, as these were designed to restrain the cotton seed manufacturers (including the informants) from infringing their patents [re] Bt cotton technology.

The Delhi HC found the petitioners’ contentions bereft of any merit. It observed that while a patent holder is well within its rights to enter into an agreement restraining infringement of its patent rights, however, these rights are not unqualified. The words “or to impose reasonable conditions” under Section 3(5)(i) are placed between two commas and thus, must be interpreted as being placed in parenthesis that explains and qualifies the safe harbor of Section 3(5) of the Competition Act. The exclusionary provision to restrain infringement cannot be read to mean a right to include unreasonable conditions that far exceed those that are necessary, for the aforesaid purpose.

Therefore, the question whether an agreement is limited to restraining infringement of patents (and includes reasonable conditions), is required to be determined by CCI. Section 3(5) of the Competition Act does not mean that a patentee would be free to include onerous conditions under the guise of protecting its rights.

Whether Bharti Airtel Judgment Confers Primacy to Sectoral Regulators over CCI

Lastly, relying on the Bharti Airtel judgment[7], the petitioners contended that since issues in the present matter relate to patents, it would be essential for the specialised regulator in this case, the Controller to first determine whether the agreements (sub-licences) entered into by MMBL are an abuse of its rights under the Patents Act before CCI could investigate it.

In this regard, the Delhi HC clarified that the position taken by the Supreme Court in Bharti Airtel judgment[8], in favour of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), would not be applicable in the present case for the following reasons:

First, the Bharti Airtel judgment[9] did not confer primacy to sectoral regulators over matters that fell within the expertise and domain of CCI. Unlike the present matter, where the complaint filed before CCI pertains to anti-competitive conduct by the petitioners, the dispute in Bharti Airtel (which was sought to be placed before CCI) related to non-provision of points of interconnections (PoI) i.e. a technical telecom issue. The PoI issue clearly required a technical evaluation and therefore, the examination by CCI was deferred till the technical aspects (basis which the complaints were filed before CCI) were determined by TRAI.

Second, the Bharti Airtel judgment[10] pertained to the role and functions of TRAI which is materially different from that of the Controller. The TRAIs scope of regulation is pervasive in nature as it is entrusted with the formation and implementation of regulations. Therefore, the issue of non-provision of PoIs fell squarely within the scope of TRAIs regulatory powers. On the contrary, a Controller does not regulate the exercise of patent rights in such a pervasive manner. The principal function of the Controller is to examine the application of grant of patents and whether an applicant is entitled to such grant of patent rights. Although, the Controller also exercises other powers and performs other functions (including issuance of compulsory licences), the nature of role performed by the Controller cannot be equated to that of TRAI.

Therefore, the Delhi HC held that CCI has jurisdiction to investigate the abusive conduct of Monsanto.

Key Takeaways

Given the conundrum around the applicability of Bharti Airtel judgment[11] (as discussed above), the Delhi HC provided the much-needed clarity in relation to the jurisdiction of CCI in cases involving statutory regulators. The judgment reaffirms that CCI is entrusted with the function to deal with anti-competitive conduct (as set out under the Competition Act) and to that extent, CCI can assume jurisdiction even in matters involving a specialised statutory body. This observation of the Delhi HC will go a long way in restricting the abuse of legal process, where the parties attempt to escape CCIs investigation by raising frivolous jurisdictional issues.

In this judgment, the Delhi HC has taken the opportunity to re-emphasise that there is no irreconcilable repugnancy between the Patents Act and the Competition Act. Interestingly, it also construed Section 3(5) of the Competition Act in true spirit by clarifying that Section 3(5) of the Competition Act is not a blanket restriction, and therefore unreasonable conditions could not be imposed by an IPR holder under the garb of protecting its rights.

While the Delhi HC has established a progressive precedent through this judgment, it will be interesting to see how it plays out for CCI and other statutory regulators.


* Anshuman Sakle is a Partner with the Competition Law Practice at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and can be contacted at anshuman.sakle@cyrilshroff.com.  Ruchi Verma, Associate, can be contacted at ruchi.verma@cyrilshroff.com and Nandini Pahari, Associate with the Competition Law Practice at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.

[1] Monsanto Holdings (P) Ltd. v. CCI, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 598.

[2] Monsanto Holdings Pvt. Ltd. (MHPL), Monsanto Company, and Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd. (MMBL); collectively referred to as “Monsanto”.

[3] (2019) 2 SCC 521.

[4] Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd. (NSL), Prabhat Agri Biotech Ltd. (PABL), Pravardhan Seeds Private Ltd. (PSPL) (collectively referred to as the “informants”).

[5] (2019) 2 SCC 521.

[6] 2016 SCC OnLine Del 1951.

[7] Supra (Note-5).

[8] Supra (Note-5).

[9] Supra (Note-5).

[10] Supra (Note-5).

[11] Supra (Note-5).

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Competition Commission of India (CCI): While deciding the instant matter which revolved around violation of Section 3 (3) of the Competition Act, 2002 in the tenders floated by the various divisions/ zones of the Indian Railways (including the Informants) and other procuring entities for procuring of different types of Composite Brake Blocks (CBBs), during the period 2009 to 2017, the Coram comprising of Ashok Kumar Gupta (Chairperson) and Sangeeta Verma, Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi, (Members) accepted the complaint registered by the Railway zones against various manufacturing companies for indulging in cartelization (price-fixing) in the Composite Brake Blocks (CBB) market in India, at least from 2009 till 2017, by means of directly or indirectly determining prices, allocating markets, co-ordinating bid response and manipulating the bidding process, which had an “appreciable adverse effect on competition” (AAEC) within India.

Various railway divisions from different zones of the country had given out tenders for procurements of certain Brake blocks and Composite Brake Blocks (CBB), for which vendors were approved by Research Design and Standards Organisation (‘RDSO’). It was alleged that identical/ higher bids were quoted by the Opposite Parties in the instant matter, in tenders floated by various Railway Zones and identical reductions in quoted rates were offered by them in the subsequent negotiations.The Commission, on noting the allegations made against the companies, ordered the Director General to conduct the investigation on the matter. The DG found that 8 of the 10 Opposite Parties had formed a cartel in order to manipulate the rates of the tenders and the other 2 OPs had not been a part of the cartel but did get involve in manipulative practices to exchange bid related information. Thus it was concluded by the DG that the Opposite Parties were found to be in violation of Section 3 of the Competition Act, 2002.

The counsels for OP 1-10 submitted their claims against the report of DG. The main grounds of their respective defenses were – being co-operative in submitting the evidence; no economic injury caused to the railways; ceased participation from the cartel; the company being unaware of its employees engaging in such cartel like behaviour and upon knowing so, withdrawing the employee from such deal; indirect involvement in the business; no opportunity provided to the company for cross-examination of employees found engaging in such behaviour etc. No objections/ suggestions to the investigation report of the DG were made by the Informant Parties (the Railway Zones).

The Commission noted two main issues after hearing the claims of the counsels. The first was whether the Opposite Parties had acted in a manner which is in contravention of the provisions of Section 3 (3) of the Act and the second issue was of the liability of the individuals/ persons/ officials of the Opposite Parties, in terms of Sections 48 (1) or (2) of the Competition Act. The answer to the first question was found in the affirmative by the Commission and hence, it found OP -1 to OP-10 had violated Section 3 (3) (a), Section 3(3) (c) and Section 3 (3) (d) read with Section 3 (1) of the Competition Act, 2002. Commission further ordered the OPs, in term of Section 27 (a) of the 2002 Act, to direct to their officials found to be in contravention of Section 48 (2) of the 2002 Act to desist from indulging in such practices in the future. However, the Commission did not impose any monetary penalty n these companies as it found many of them to be Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and noting how adverse the monetary situation has been during COVID-19, the Commission, in the interest of justice, refrained from imposing any monetary penalty in the peculiar circumstances of the case. However it did caution these companies to refrain from indulging in such malpractices and any such future behaviour would be constituting recidivism with attendant consequences. [South Eastern Railway West Bengal v. Hindustan Composites Ltd., 2020 SCC OnLine CCI 28 , decided on 10-07-2020]

Business LawOp EdsOP. ED.

Facebook is investing $5.7 billion or INR 43,574 crore to get close to 10% equity in Jio Platforms Limited.  In its press release[1], the social media giant expressed its intention to connect Jio’s e-commerce platform, JioMart, to small businesses and shops via “the power of WhatsApp” in order to make online shopping a seamless mobile experience. The Jio-Facebook deal announced last week promises to push India’s digital transformation to new heights. However, out of a number of regulatory approvals, Competition Commission of India’s (CCI) approval is the most crucial one. To consummate a deal that crosses the thresholds mentioned under Section 5 of the Competition Act, 2002, CCI’s approval is mandatory. Section 6 sub-section (2) read with Regulation 5 of the Combination Regulations[2] evidences a suspensory regime i.e. the approval must be obtained prior to closing of the deal in the country.

 The deal, as ambitious as it sounds, can run into anti-trust issues. Firstly, the multi-billion-dollar investment into Jio will have to be notified to and approved by India’s competition regulator. For that to happen, CCI will have to take a forward-looking approach and check that the proposed combination does not have potential to cause appreciable adverse effect on the competition in the market. To safeguard the investment from the protectionist approaches of Indian regulators is a crucial factor in consummating the deal and, subsequently, carrying it forward smoothly. Despite the criticism to protectionist regulatory regime, CCI tends to adopt a liberal approach[3]. In the approved RIL-Brookfield tower infrastructure deal, the two were found to be vertical participants and CCI went ahead to analyse if there were any vertical overlap. With RIL’s acquisition of stake in Saudi AramCo at hold, it needs to be more careful with the investment and regulatory concerns with the activities of its digital arm, Jio.

 The strategic investment for acquiring the minority stake is not simply a passive investment. The filing of notice as per Regulation 4 of the Combination Regulations in itself is indicative of the fact that the transaction is not in the ordinary course of business and is backed with an intent of strategic investment to bring in change in control. Thus, the responsibility of CCI is to peruse not only the potential adverse effects on competition but also the potential concerns it may give rise to. It would be interesting to see whether the acquisition of minority stake in India’s leading telecom arm would grant any control to Facebook. Let us look at the possible anti-trust issues that the deal poses:

Dominance: Boon or a bane?

Both Jio and Facebook seem to be dominant players in their respective markets. The  Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s data points to the fact that Jio has the highest market share in terms of user base and revenue sharing in the telecom market as it holds 32% share in the 1.15-billion-user Indian mobile services market, taking its total user base to 369.93 million, surpassing its competitors Bharti Airtel and Vodafone-Idea. It must also be noted that, unlike others, all Jio connections are 4G based, thus, having a strong base of smartphone users.

Now, Facebook primarily operates via three platforms: facebook.com, Instagram and WhatsApp. All of them seem to be dominant players in the market they operate in. We are only concerned with WhatsApp. Its relevant market seems to be smartphone-based social media messaging platform. WhatsApp has more than 400 million[4] confirmed users in India, while around 600 million[5] people have access to internet[6] in the country. Other competitors to WhatsApp in India are hike, WeChat, Telegram, which only have a fraction of the users as WhatsApp.

Jio plans to revolutionise JioMart by combining it with WhatsApp to integrate small and medium scale ‘kirana’ businesses to cater to the demand. This would firstly strengthen the position of mom-pop shops in the local market by sewing them into the digital framework and secondly would attempt to penetrate into another market by using the dominance of WhatsApp.

More so, WhatsApp could possibly allow JioMart to operate on its messaging platform. If done so, and in the manner that WhatsApp comes with pre-embedded JioMart platform, it could lead to abuse of dominance under Section 4(2)(d) as installing WhatsApp would be the main contract and pre-embedded JioMart would be the unconnected supplementary obligation. This would also mean that the users would not be allowed to embed any other e-commerce portal on WhatsApp messenger, which would again seem to be causing disruption in the competition in the market and unfair to consumers as it would leave no choice to them but accept the imposed deal.

Another advantage post the deal would be of control over consumer data. As of now, RIL Chief has said that there is no agreement for transferring of consumer data between the parties; however, this does not erode the possibility of entering into such agreements in the near future. While control over data has been used by Competition Regulators in examining the e-commerce and digital platforms’ anti-competitive conduct (viz. Amazon-Flipkart case[7], Sonam Sharma v. Apple Inc. USA[8]), this factor in the present case must be dealt with utmost seriousness and conviction to ensure survival of healthy competition in the e-commerce market, especially at a time when Facebook has been imposed with $5 billion fine over data privacy violation[9].

Appreciable Adverse Effect on Competition: Is it too soon?

Where the strategic investment is with the intent to enter into a different segment using the control in respective markets to enter into an entirely different product market, the parameters to check the potential adverse effect on the competition must be comprehensive. In re, Google LLC[10], CCI observed that there is a need to not only delineate primary relevant market but also associated markets to relevant markets that have been affected by the conduct of the parties involved. Section 20 sub-section (4) lists the factors that CCI must consider to conclude if there is any appreciable adverse effect on the competition because of the proposed combination.

The essence of this checklist is to look for horizontal or vertical overlap in the activities post acquisition. While there seems to be no horizontal overlap, there definitely could be a case of vertical integration. Jio provides internet to smartphone, smartphones use internet to operate WhatsApp and now WhatsApp would integrate JioMart. It is not only vertical integration but use of dominant position in one market to enter into a new market, and thus would be likely to effect adversely the natural competition in the ‘phygital’ commerce market (as has been recently termed).

The analysis must be based not only on the market share of the deal participants both pre and post-acquisition but must also mindfully address the data sharing aspect of the deal, considering these data mammoths’ conduct in the recent past. The US Court imposing record $5 billion fine on Facebook for privacy violations is in itself a warning for the Indian regulators to intervene in this far reaching deal especially, to protect the Indian start-up movement that is also an important wing of the Digital India flight. The deal no doubt has potential of creating business and commercial barriers for local tech start-ups. The primary purpose of the merger control regime is to foresee adverse effects and to live up to this objective, CCI must take cognizance of the interrelatedness of this deal.

One can at the same not ignore the importance of balance between the commercial interest and the consumer welfare interests. Though the weighing scale can never be equal for both, what is important for CCI as a regulator of omnipotent economic concerns is that it shouldn’t step on the commercial prospects deal participants like such to ensure distributive justice.

The deal will undoubtedly push the CCI’s merger control jurisprudence into a comprehensive one and shall be significant in laying down a vigilant yet compendious framework for future deals. While we are still speculating about the nature of the deal, JioMart has started testing WhatsApp for grocery orders in pursuance of the proposed deal. “The customer initiates the interaction on WhatsApp, checks out the grocery order on JioMart webpage, gets connected with a retail store on WhatsApp and then customer picks up the order from Kirana and pays in cash,” said the news report[11].


*Prateek and Samanvi are pursuing Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Corporate and Commercial Law from Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad

[1] Press release by Facebook (21.02.2020), https://about.fb.com/news/2020/04/facebook-invests-in-jio/

[2] Competition Commission of India (Procedure in regard to the transactions of business relating to combinations) Regulations, 2011 

[3] CCI has cleared over 600 combinations, and has not blocked even a single one. Only eight were subject to detailed Phase II enquiry, India: Merger Control (4th Edn.), AZB Partners, https://www.azbpartners.com/bank/india-merger-control-4th-edition/,

[4] Manish Singh, WhatsApp reaches 400 million users in India, Tech Crunch, (26.07.2020), https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/26/whatsapp-india-users-400-million/

[5] Sanika Diwanji, Number of internet users in India from 2015 to 2018 with a forecast until 2023, Statista, (31.03.2020), https://www.statista.com/statistics/255146/number-of-internet-users-in-india/

[6] PTI, Internet users in India to reach 627 million in 2019, Economic Times, (06.03.2019)

[7] Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh v. Flipkart Internet Private Limited

[8] 2013 SCC OnLine CCI 25

[9] AFP, Cambridge Analytica: US Court Approves Record $5 Billion Fine of Facebook Over Privacy, NDTV (25.04.2020)

[10] Umar Javeed v. Google LLC, Case No. 39 of 2018, dated 16-4-2019

[11] Reliance Begins Using Whatsapp for Grocery Deliveries Through JioMart, Business Standard, (27.04.2020)

Op EdsOP. ED.

Introduction

Post liberalisation in 1991, Indian economic policies had to undergo drastic changes to adapt to the global practices and national agenda. In 2002, the Competition Act[1] was enacted to replace the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969[2], as it was considered insufficient to control anti-competition practises and nurture competition. The Competition Act, focused mainly on abuse of dominance, anti-competition agreements, competition advocacy and regulation of combinations. The Act had been implanted with efficiency, however, with the change in the market trends a need was felt to further analyse the Act in light of the current situations. The Government therefore constituted the Competition Law Review Committee in 2018[3], to study the current market trends and examine whether the Competition Act is in sync with the market practises. The Committee’s mandate was: to suggest any changes in the current regime taking into account the market trends, best international practises, other governmental policies and regulatory mechanisms which overlap the Competition Act, and any other related competition issues. The Competition (Amendment) Bill, 2020 [4] was then drafted based on the recommendations of the Committee.

The Bill aims to bring major changes to the current system. The key takeaways can be classified in the following categories.

Structural Changes 

Taking into account the Supreme Court’s decision in Brahm Dutt v. Union of India[5] and the Delhi High Court’s decision in Mahindra Electric Mobility Ltd.  v. CCI[6], the Committee acknowledged that the functions performed by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) is multifarious and therefore to establish a regulatory body in lines with other regulatory bodies in the country, the Bill introduced the establishment of a governing body[7], consisting of part time members and ex officio members. The objective behind the introduction of governing body is twofold, firstly to reduce the burden on the CCI, as the governing body will be responsible to carry out all the quasi-legislative function and policy decision, and secondly with the introduction of part time members and ex officio members, will bring in external perspective and will strengthen the democratic legitimacy and accountability of the CCI.

The Bill aims to merge the office of Director General (DG) constituted under Section 16 of the Competition Act, as an investigation branch of the CCI. Earlier the DG was not answerable to the CCI, but to the Central Government, however this classification was merely de jure. The Committee while recommending such change took into accounted practices adopted by European Union, China, United States and Brazil, and the Supreme Court’s decision in CCI v. Steel Authority of India Ltd.[8]

Changes in the functioning of the CCI

The Bill introduces provisions recognising the settlement or consent orders, in case of antitrust proceedings. The Bill proposes the introduction of certain provision which permit an investigated party to offer a settlement[9] or voluntary undertake certain commitments[10] in relation to an anti-competitive vertical agreement or abuse of dominance proceeding. The Bill under these provisions envision the mechanism to be adopted to permit such settlement or commitment mechanism. The objective of adoption of such orders was to enable the CCI resolve antitrust cases faster, which would in turn help the businesses to avoid long investigation procedure and uncertainty. This procedural change is a sign of relief to the corporate field.

Changes in provisions relating to combinations

The definition of control under the Act had not defined the minimum standards required to establish such control, therefore the CCI had used the yardstick of the ability to exercise ‘decisive influence’ and ‘material influence’. The Bill proposes to statutorily recognise the standards of ‘material influence’[11]. The introduction of such standards serves twin purpose, firstly, it would bring certainty and consistency in the decisions and secondly, it will ensure that a larger number of transactions are scrutinised while an investment friendly economy is maintained.

The Bill introduces many changes with regards to the regulations of combinations. Some of these are, the principal act prescribed certain specific grounds which would constitute combination and the parties involved in such a transaction would be under an obligation to notify CCI before the execution of any such agreement. The Bill introduces the power of the central government in consultation with CCI to identify any other ground which would constitute combination[12], further the Bill also states that the power would also include the power to delist any ground which would otherwise constitute combination[13]. It is a welcome change as it increase the jurisdictional threshold of CCI, such an amendment would help include a number of digital transactions which were currently out of the scope of scrutiny of CCI, as it did not had any residuary power under the act. 

The Bill purposes to statutorily recognise the Green Channel Process. The rationale behind introduction of such process is to enable fast-paced regulatory approvals for vast majority of mergers and acquisition that may have no major concerns regarding appreciable adverse effects on competition. The aim is to move towards disclosure based regime with strict consequences for not providing accurate or complete information. The power of green channel will also extend to approve resolutions arrived at in an insolvency resolution process under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. Further to ensure time bound assessment of combination a mandatory 30days timeline is also included in the act[14]. The Bill also reduces the time within which the CCI has to issue its preliminary opinion on whether a combination would cause adverse effect on competition, from thirty working days to twenty calendar days[15]. Such timelines would help ease the burden on the parties involved in the transactions.

Inclusion of Technology and New Age Markets

The Bill purposes to expand the scope of the act to include within its scope the digital markets, in order to achieve the said goal the Bill makes a numbers of changes in the existing system. Some of the changes are, express inclusion of hub and spoke arrangement[16], and buyer’s cartel.  The Committee recognised the tactics used by the companies to escape scrutiny under the act and also took into account the orders issued by the CCI in  Hyundai Motors case[17] and Uber case[18], and recommended that the element of ‘knowledge’ or ‘intention’ should not be considered under such agreements.

The Bill seeks to widen the scope of section 3, the principal act restricted the scope of section to horizontal or vertical agreement leading to adverse effect on competition. The Bill intents to include other agreements too, taking into account the decision in Ramakant Kini v. Dr. L.H. Hiranandani Hospital[19] and to expand the scope of the provision to include agreement entered in the digital market. The Bills expressly includes the ‘control over data’ or ‘specialised assets’ under the list of conditions which constitute dominance of a company in the market[20]. The rationale behind such inclusion was to expand the scope of the section to online businesses collecting customer data through user feedback loops, which would have the company have a more targeted approach. 

Changes in the Enforcement Functions

The principal Act did not grant any punitive powers to the DG or the CCI, therefore the institution was toothless in case of noncompliance of the orders. The Bill intends to introduce wide range of powers to the DG as well as the CCI. The Bill introduces provision[21] under which any person who (a) fails to produce any documents, information or record, (b) did not appear before the DG or fail to answer any question by the DG, (c) or sign the note of cross-examination, shall be punishable with imprisonment of term extending up to six months or fine up to one crore rupees. The Bill introduces the maximum cap of penalty as the 10% of income of the individual in the preceding three years, in case of formation of cartels[22].

The Bill intends to adopt practises prevailing in countries like UK, US, Singapore and Brazil, where the cartel under investigation has disclosed some relevant information of some other existing cartel will be liable to lesser punishment[23]. The power to compound offences is introduced in the Bill[24].

Shortcomings in the proposed amendment

  1. The Committee recommended that the governing body should only have the power to perform quasi-legislative functions and policy decision and not the adjudicatory functions, however the Bill does not clearly demarcates such powers. Further the Bill is silent on the procedure of election of the part time member and ex officio members, which raises serious concerns of independence of such members.
  2. The Committee while recommending the adoption of the integrated agency model did not take into account the impact it would have on the system of check and balance established by separating the investigative and adjudicatory branches of an organisation. Such merger is against the principle enunciated by the Supreme Court in Excel Crop Care Ltd. v. CCI[25], wherein the Court accorded greater independence to the office of the DG. The Court held that although the base for any investigation is the allegation made in a complaint, however if any new facts are revealed the office of DG is empowered to include such facts in its report. Furthermore the Bill does not take into account protective measures suggested by the Committee in order to maintain the due process, such as the DG in order to maintain functional autonomy, should directly report to the Chairperson of CCI, the parties should have adequate right to representation and examine evidence, and there should be strong appellate forum. 
  3. The Bill is silent on a number of aspects of the settlement or commitment order, such as whether such order would have a precedential value i.e. whether such an order would have to be taken into account while deciding similar pending cases and whether the right to compensation would survive such order.
  4. The Bill merely introduces the concept of compounding of offences by the NCLAT, but it does not provide for the procedure to be adopted by the NCLAT. Furthermore, the Committee recommended that a Bench of NCLAT should be dedicated to hear appeals under the Act, however the recommendation was not incorporated under the Act. Such an action would have an adverse impact on the effective implementation of the Act. Since COMPAT established under the Act is scrapped, the rate of disposal of appeals have decreased considerably. And if the recommendation is not incorporated in the Act, it will hamper the national initiatives like Make in India. 
  5. The power to review which was initially granted to the CCI, was repealed by the 2007 amendment. However later in Google Inc. v. CCI[26] the Court held that such power of review is inherent in nature. While there have been other contrary judgements, the Committee should have recommended the introduction of the power to review, however no such recommendation was made.

Conclusion

The introduction of the amendment Bill is a welcome step, as the country is at a very critical juncture where it is imperative for the Government to properly assess each recommendation before implementing the same. The Government in order to reap maximum benefit of the huge market, it must maintain a balance between robust administration and market friendly regime. The Bill is currently open for suggestion by the interested stakeholders, but a brief analysis of the proposed amendment reveals that the Government is motivated to implement a regime where the interest of all the stakeholders are taken into account. 


*4th year student, MNLU Nagpur. The author can be contacted at jhs.shivamtripathi@gmail.com

[1] Competition Act, 2002

[2] Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969

[3] Government of India, MCA, ‘Government constitutes Competition Law Review Committee to review the Competition Act’ (30 September 2018) <https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=183835> accessed on 11 March 2020.

[4] Draft Competition (Amendment) Act, 2002 <http://feedapp.mca.gov.in/pdf/Draft-Competition-Amendment-Bill-2020.pdf> accessed on 09 March 2020.

[5](2005) 2 SCC 431

[6] (2019) SCC Online Del 8032

[7] Under Section 8

[8] (2010) 10 SCC 744, para 8. 

[9] Under Section 48-A

[10] Under Section 48-B.

[11] Under Explanation of clause (a), Section 5. 

[12] Under proviso to Section 5.

[13] Under second proviso to Section 5.

[14] Under Section 6(2).

[15] Under Section 29(1-A).

[16] Under Section 3(3).

[17] Fx Enterprise Solutions India Pvt. Ltd. v. Hyundai Motor India Ltd., 2017 SCC OnLine CCI 26 

[18] Samir Agrawal v. ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd., 2018 SCC OnLine CCI 86 

[19] Ramakant Kini v. Dr. L.H. Hiranandani Hospital, 2014 SCC OnLine CCI 17  

[20] Under Section 19(4)

[21] Under Section 41(8).

[22] Under Sections 27 and 48.

[23] Under Section 46(3).

[24] Under Section 59-A

[25] (2017) 8 SCC 47

[26] 2015 SCC Online Del 8992

COVID 19Hot Off The PressNews

Upon requests for urgent listing of cases having been made telephonically to Registrar of this Appellate Tribunal from various persons, who were unable to physically file the same on account of complete lockdown declared by Government with effect from 25th March, 2020.

In view of the above, Bench comprising of Justice Bansi Lal Bhat (Actg. Chairperson) and Justice Anant Bijay Singh] Member (Judicial) and Dr Ashok Kumar Mishra] Member (Technical) takes suo moto cognizance of the unprecedented situation arising out of spread of COVID19 virus declared a pandemic.

Having regard to the hardships being faced by various stakeholders as also the legal fraternity, which go beyond filing of Appeals/ cases, which has already been taken care of by the Hon’ble Apex Court by extending the period of limitation with effect from 15th March, 2020 till further order/s in terms of order dated 23rd March, 2020 in Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No(s).03/2020, inasmuch as certain steps required to be taken by various Authorities under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 or to comply with various provisions and to adhere to the prescribed timelines for taking the ‘Resolution Process’ to its logical conclusion in order to obviate and mitigate such hardships, this Appellate Tribunal in exercise of powers conferred by Rule 11 of National Company Law Appellate Tribunal Rules, 2016 r/w the decision of this Appellate Tribunal rendered in “Quinn Logistics India Pvt. Ltd. v. Mack Soft Tech Pvt. Ltd. in Company Appeal (AT) (Insolvency) No.185 of 2018” decided on 8th May, 2018 do hereby order as follows: –

(1) That the period of lockdown ordered by the Central Government and the State Governments including the period as may be extended either in whole or part of the country, where the registered office of the Corporate Debtor may be located, shall be excluded for the purpose of counting of the period for ‘Resolution Process under Section 12 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, in all cases where ‘Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process’ has been initiated and pending before any Bench of the National Company Law Tribunal or in Appeal before this Appellate Tribunal.

(2) It is further ordered that any interim order/ stay order passed by this Appellate Tribunal in anyone or the other Appeal under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 shall continue till next date of hearing, which may be notified later.

The above order is to be circulated to all all benches of NCLT, New Delhi.

In Re Competition Act, 2002, this Appellate Tribunal do hereby order as follows: –

(1) That interim direction / stay order passed in all competition Appeals shall continue until further order.

(2) In the event of expiry of period of Fixed Deposits, the concerned bank shall renew the same for further period of six months.

In Re National Company Law Appellate Tribunal Rules, 2016 do hereby order as follows: –

(1) It is ordered that any interim order/ stay order passed by this Appellate Tribunal in anyone or the other Appeal under the Companies Act, 2013 shall continue till next date of hearing, which may be notified later.

[Suo Moto – Company Appeal (AT) (Insolvency) No. 01 of 2020, Order dt. 30-03-2020]

Legislation UpdatesNotifications

In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (a) of section 54 of the Competition Act, 2002 (12 of 2003), the Central Government hereby exempts a Banking Company in respect of which the Central Government has issued a notification under Section 45 of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 (10 of 49), from the application of the provisions of Sections 5 and 6 of the Competition Act, 2002, in public interest for a period of five years from the date of publication of this notification in the Official Gazette.

Note:

Section 5 of Competition Act, 2002 talks about “Combination”.

Section 6 of Competition Act talks about “Regulation of Combinations”.


Ministry of Corporate Affairs

[Notification dt. 11-03-2020]

Corp Comm LegalExperts Corner

Introduction 

It is very common in India, particularly for middle-class people to talk and crib about the rising prices of goods and services. It is not uncommon to find a huge divergence between the public perception about rising prices and the official data pertaining to the inflation rate. Is there a legal way to control prices?

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in [1] United Brands Co. v. Commission of the European Communities highlighted that Article 82 of the European Commission Treaty (ECT) directly applies to conduct which is harmful to the consumers. Such conduct includes excessive and unfairly high prices. The ECJ also provided a cost-based test for dealing with cases related to excessive pricing. The test highlights a two-fold approach wherein the regulators have to identify the profit margin i.e. the different cost of production and prices applied and also the price of other competing products. 

The test laid down under the [2] United Brands case has been acknowledged in several other European cases such as[3] General Motors Continental NV v. Commission of the European Communities and[4] Terezakis v. Commission. On the contrary, the debate on excessive pricing is at a very nascent stage in India and has been limited to the pharmaceutical sector. Predominantly, the challenge before the Competition Commission is to maintain a balance between static and dynamic efficiencies, in order to avoid undermining of investment incentives, while ensuring that consumers’ interest is protected. In this article, we discuss whether a blanket restriction on excessive pricing based upon the two-stage test laid down in the United Brands[5] case is viable. 

Undeveloped Jurisprudence on “Excessive Pricing” in India

The Indian counterpart of Article 84 of ECT is Section 4 of the Competition Act, 2002, which prohibits the abuse of dominance by dominant firms. In [6] Flynn Pharma Ltd. v. Competition and Markets Authority, the Commission recognised the practical difficulties associated with delineating “excessive pricing”.[7] Factors such as the lack of substantial evidence on costs, availability of substitutes from competitors and the legitimate resistance in exceeding its jurisdiction by setting prices of goods/services have hindered competition authorities from examining and defining “excessive pricing” in depth. 

Quite recently, an “excessive pricing” allegation against the anti-cancer drug Trastuzumab was rejected in Biocon Ltd. v. F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG on the grounds that the initial increase in drug price was attributable to the huge costs incurred in research and development (R&D) and innovation. [8]

In the absence of a conclusive determination of the term “excessive” and what factors shall be computed to brand a certain price as “excessive” is a grey area. While there are several arguments against “excessive pricing” with respect to the hardship caused to the consumers, it must be noted that a blanket restriction on excessive pricing may not be viable or reasonable. 

 For example, “Excessive pricing” can be justified in the following circumstances.

1. When “Excessive Pricing” Triggers Competitive Behaviour

Anti-competitive behaviour stems from factors that limit the ability of firms to compete on an equal platform. Market forces in a free market determine the prices of products and ensure that the price level of like products are competitive. In most situations, when a firm decides to price its products at an unreasonable or an unfairly high price, the same would promote other firms to produce low priced substitutes in order to oust the higher priced products. Therefore, in turn, the excessive pricing by one firm shall trigger competitive behaviour for other firms and benefit the consumer in the long run.

2. When the Time Period for Close Substitutes to Enter the Market is Less

The pro-competitive behaviour of “excessive pricing” i.e. to encourage other firms to capitalise and provide low priced substitutes is contingent upon the time taken by the followers to enter the market. In situations, where the time taken by other firms to enter the market is substantial, “excessive pricing” may be regulated to limit hardship to the consumers. For instance, in pharma cases, the amount of expenditure on research and development required is immense and it limits the ability of other firms to enter the market expediently. 

 The UK Competition Appeal Tribunal in Napp Pharmaceuticals case [9] held that Napp was charging excessive prices as its prices and profit margins were substantially higher than its competitors. While the judgment made important observations on abuse of dominant position and excessive pricing, it can be criticised on the grounds that the competitors of Napp could capitalise and oust Napp from its dominant position. 

 However, the same situation does not hold true in all pharmaceutical cases—in many cases, there shall be no cheaper substitutes available and would require regulation. However, if the time period required for other firms to provide close substitutes is less, excessive pricing shall trigger competitive behaviour and must not be regulated. 

3. When the Entry Barriers are Not Strong

Similarly, in situations where there are very heavy entry barriers that allow a supplier to continuously charge excessive prices, the same shall warrant regulation. For instance, a firm develops a unique technology and secures Intellectual Property (IP) protection, in such cases, the strong entry barriers shall demand regulation of “excessive pricing”. However, in cases where it is comparatively easier for other firms to enter a market to develop cheaper substitutes, excessive pricing shall not require regulation. 

4. Lack of Consumer Awareness with Respect to Lower-Priced Substitutes

The lack of awareness of customers with respect to the available substitutes should not account for lack of substitutes thereby warranting regulation of “excessive pricing”. In such cases, the advocacy division of the Competition Commission of India must indulge in awareness initiatives to ensure that asymmetry of information does not cause hardship to the customers. 

5. Excessive Pricing Can Also be a Matter of Price Strategy 

Excessive strategy is directly correlated to the pricing strategy of firms and the rationale behind suppliers knowingly charging an excessive rate. In certain situations, dominant entities base the pricing strategies on the higher cost of providing or merely lack of close substitutes. However, certain products bank on exclusivity and may be deliberately charged higher as a matter of strategy to create exclusivity of product and target a different base.

Conclusion

“Excessive Pricing” should be regulated in sectors such as the pharmaceutical sector as there are strong entry barriers that restrict the ability of other firms to enter the market with cheaper substitutes. The essential nature of the product warrants regulation to restrict hardship caused to the customers. However, there should not be a blanket application of such regulations due to the points highlighted above.  Another reason for not regulating “excessive pricing” is the lack of substantial evidence on costs and availability of substitutes from competitors. In cases wherein there is not sufficient evidence to show an unreasonable profit margin, regulating “excessive pricing” becomes extremely difficult. Moreover, “excessive pricing” does not have anti-competitive effects unless the time taken for cheaper substitutes to oust the product is substantial.


*Bhumesh Verma is Managing Partner at Corp Comm Legal and can be contacted at bhumesh.verma@corpcommlegal.in.

**Abhishar Vidyarthi is a Student Researcher with a final year student, (BA LLB), Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai).

[1] 1978 ECR 207.
[2] 1978 ECR 207.
[3] 1976 ECR 1367.
[4] 2008 ECR II-11.
[5] 1978 ECR 207.
[6] 2018 CAT 12.
[7] 2019 CAT 9.
[8] 2017 SCC OnLine CCI 21.
[9] No CA98/2/2001.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A Bench comprising of A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, JJ. dismissed an appeal filed against the judgment of Bombay High Court whereby it held that Competition Commission of India had no jurisdiction to pass order in the instant matter as the issues were covered by Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and Telecom Regulatory Authority Act, 1997 and the appropriate forum was the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

In the present matter, the Court was faced with determining the width and scope of the powers of the CCI under the Competition Act, 2002 pertaining to telecom sector vis-a-vis the scope of the powers of TRAI under the TRAI Act, 1997.

Factual Matrix

On 21-10-2013, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. was granted a licence under Section 4 of the Telegraph Act by the Department of Telecom (DoT) for providing telecommunication services in all 22 circles in India. Soon thereafter, RJIL executed interconnection agreements with existing telecom operators including Airtel, Idea and Vodafone. RJIL  requested these companies to augment Point of Interconnection (POIs) for access as the capacity already provided to it was causing huge POI congestion, resulting in call failures on its network. According to RJIL, these companies intentionally ignored the aforesaid request.

Subsequently, in November 2016, RJIL filed information under Section 19 of the Competition Act before the CCI, As per RJIL, the respondent service providers, along with Cellular Operators Association of India, formed a cartel and acted in an anti-competitive manner which is prohibited by the Act. The CCI passed order dated 21-4-2017 under Section 26(1) as per which it came to a prima facie conclusion that case for investigation was made out and directed the Director-General to cause investigation in the case. Aggrieved thereby, respondents filed writ petitions before the High Court which quashed the order of CCI on the ground that CCI lacked jurisdiction to entertain such complaints/information filed under Section 19 as such matter falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of another regulatory authority, namely, TRAI.

Challenging this order passed by the High Court, the appellants were before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court considered the matter on following points:

(a) Jurisdiction of CCI

After noting salient features of Competition Act and TRAI Act, the Court concluded that as TRAI is constituted as an expert regulatory body which specifically governs the telecom sector, the aforesaid aspects of the disputes were to be decided by TRAI in the first instance. These were jurisdictional aspects. The High Court was right in concluding that the concepts of “subscriber”, “test period”, “reasonable demand”, etc, arising out of TRAI Act and the policy so declared, are the matters within the jurisdiction of TDSAT under the TRAI Act. Only when the jurisdictional facts in the present matter were determined by the TRAI against the respondents, the next question would arise as to whether it was a result of any concerted agreement between the respondents. It would be at that stage the CCI can go into the question as to whether violation of the provisions of TRAI Act amounts to ‘abuse of dominance’ or ‘anti-competitive agreements’.

(b) Whether TRAI has the exclusive jurisdiction to deal with matters involving anti-competitive practices to the exclusion of CCI altogether?

The function that is assigned to CCI is distinct from the function of TRAI. It is within the exhaustive domain of CCI to find out as to whether a particular agreement will have an appreciable adverse effect on competition within the relevant market in India. Such functions not only come within the domain of CCI, but TRAI is not at all equipped to deal with the same.

The Court, thus, did not agree with the appellants that CCI could have dealt with this matter without availing the inquiry by TRAI. It also did not agree with the respondents that insofar as the telecom sector is concerned, the jurisdiction of the CCI under the Competition Act is totally ousted.

In incidental issues, the Court decided that the petitions field by other companies before the Bombay High court were maintainable. When such jurisdictional issues arise, the writ petition would clearly be maintainable. In view of the above discussion, the Court dismissed the appeal while upholding the decision of the High Court. [CCI v. Bharti Airtel Ltd., 2018 SCC OnLine SC 2678, decided on 05-12-2018]

Op EdsOP. ED.

The Competition Act, 2002 (the Act) is a giant step towards reformation of anti-competitive policies over its precursor, the Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practice Act, 1969 (MRTP). Becoming fully operational in 2009, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) in these 9 years has witnessed varying kinds of cases coming up related to issues of economic concentration and unfair trade, with its jurisdiction extending to a wide area of e-commerce cases involving both online and offline transactions.[1] It has brought about many changes and has had wide-ranging effects on the business sector, both private and public.

Extraterritorial jurisdiction: To infinity and beyond

The Act incorporates extraterritorial jurisdiction as under Section 32 of the Act which is based on the “effects doctrine”.[2] The absence of such provision under the MRTP Act barred the scope of action against any anti-competitive conduct involving imports, and foreign cartels in particular.[3] The Act has categorically removed this restriction, thus having an enabling effect and giving CCI the power to take action against any foreign business entity indulging in any sorts of anti-competitive behaviour.

However, its application remains contentious as far as the turnaround time for the approval of combinations and quick decision making is concerned. There exist apprehensions if the CCI is logistically equipped sufficiently to strike a chord between the international competition law developments and domestic legislation and responsibilities. If the law does have extraterritorial reach and a domestic court or tribunal has jurisdiction to hear the case, practical problems of enforcement with respect to the obtaining of evidence and the implementation of any fines or penalties are likely to arise.

The CCI, despite being well empowered has not been successful in laying down any procedures or formulating any regulations to govern the time frame to act in matters falling outside India’s territorial jurisdiction. In today’s scenario, corporate dealing involving MNC’s often result in the creation of different synergies within different countries and hence are likely to give rise to conflicting opinions about the issue within competition regulators having jurisdiction over the case involved.[4] Considering the paucity of the jurisprudence on this issue, the stance of the CCI in the future matters would be of huge relevance in the determination of any well-settled position.

Penalising the guilt: The is and the ought

CCI imposes a plethora of penalties[5] for the reasons enshrined in the section and in Part VI of the act with the entire funds being credited to the Consolidated Fund of India.[6] In its first investigation, CCI had imposed a penalty of Rs 1 lakh on movie producers colluding against multiplexes.[7] However, recent trends show that former was nominal imposition for having an amicable start with penalties being imposed in huge proportions in the times to come. For example, the CCI did impose an equally hefty penalty of Rs 2500 crores in Automobiles case[8], Rs 1700 crores in the case against Maharashtra State Power Generation Company[9], etc.

In the last 9 years, the CCI has taken a different turn, recently approving the first ever leniency application for a cartel member because the partner of the firm confessed to the anti-competitive practices which prompted the CCI to reduce the fine by 75%. It recently notified the Competition Commission of India Lesser Penalty Amendment Regulations, 2017, stating that a confession about Cartelisation (if witness was complicit) will provide them with an amnesty/leniency from the imposed liability. This depicts that CCI is going through a streamlined approach adopting the propensity to charge more proportionally.

In Iridium India Telecom v. Motorola Inc.[10], the Supreme Court held that companies can be prosecuted for offences involving mens rea with the intent and direction provided by the directors and promoters being attributable to the company. However, under the Act there exists a criminal sanction only for non-compliance of the order passed[11] with no specific provision of such liability for anti-competitive practices. Keeping in view, these aspects the Act needs amendment for incorporation of criminal sanction to maintain the deterrence in conformity with Section 6 of the Act.

Appeals of CCI orders: Hear Hear

The increasing number of appeals to High Courts against the Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT), the Competition Statutory Appellate Tribunal has not be welcomed positively since it leads to the overlapping of powers and multiplicity of efforts. In State of M.P. v. Nerbudda Valley Refrigerated Products Co. (P) Ltd.[12], the Supreme Court held that any writ petition cannot be accepted by any High Court if a statutory appellate mechanism exists. On the contrary, Paradip Port Trust v. Sales Tax Officer[13] laid down that no bar on such appeal to the High Court exists when there is any violation or non-compliance with the principles of natural justice or exceeding of jurisdictional limits by Compat, even if there exists any statutory appeal mechanism.

In 2013, the position was finally settled that such writ petitions filed against the CCI order are procedurally unfair as they lead to a direct appeal to High Court by surpassing COMPAT’s authority. In the Automobiles case[14] between Mahindra and Tata Motors the Court held the order should be challenged before COMPAT since it is functional. High Courts are not to interfere at this stage unless it is found to be a case of gross transgression of the jurisdiction or results in the breach of natural justice principles.[15] Otherwise, constitutionally, Article 226 is of a discretionary nature granting power to exercise the same to the High Court. Since most of the cases of appeal deal with statutory authority such conflict of jurisdiction requires a settled position of law.

Case closed or not

According to the Act, the Commission on the receipt of a complaint has to direct the initiation of an investigation into the allegations, based on which the Director General is supposed to submit a report. Though the Act explicitly grants CCI the authority to direct the Director General to investigate and close the matter if he detects no contravention and furthers the investigation, it does not provide for closure of the case even if the Director General finds any contravention with the Act during the investigation. Section 26 of the Act fails to provide for a situation where the Commission may not agree with the Director General’s findings after it finds a contravention, often nullifying the power of the parties to appeal to the higher authorities such as to the COMPAT or to the Supreme Court after the case has been struck down by the Commission.

Such a lacuna inherent in the Act has often led to a dispute about the powers granted under the Act to CCI and the authority and binding value of the Director General’s report. This contention was laid to rest in Gulf Oil Corp. Ltd. v. CCI[16] where the Court held that Director General’s report merely has a recommendatory nature and the CCI need not proceed under Section 26(7) in every case where it disagrees with the Director General’s report. There have been situations where cases have been closed by the Commission despite Director General stating otherwise, but this uncertainty can be resolved only when there is either a legislative amendment or by way of some purposive interpretation the judiciary.

Lag due to the lack: Recommendation for way ahead

The competition law requires multi-disciplinary inputs in its implementation and enforcement. The data reflects the inability of CCI to keep pace with the new market players due to technological advancements, insufficiency of data and shortage in staff and panel experts, thus affecting the process of expediting investigation and adjudication of matters. The initial few years witnessed a trend of delay in the disposal of cases due to lacking number of officials requiring appointment of experts from legal and economic backgrounds at different levels to help handle these cases. Resultantly, the performance has improved with respect to the disposal of case with the average disposal rate of merger control cases reducing from around 16.5 days in 2011-2012 to around 26.4 days in 2015-2016.[17]

To deal with the existing laxity, greater man power is needed which is presently built up through deputations and imports of officers from other departments. Thus a specialised task force would be more advantageous that this deputation based enforcement since such enforcement needs the expertise and sufficiency of manpower oriented to handle anti-competitive wrongdoings to move ahead. Thus, we recommend instituting a separate cadre for the CCI through the Indian competition services for the better and speedier addressing of the matters at hand. Under this service, we recommend to institutionalise the existing task force which would remove arbitrariness in the existing subjective standards.

The reason why CCI lags behind is because of its inability to keep pace with the latest advancements. An institutionalised workforce would address these concerns by providing a better equipped organisation structure that would facilitate in disposal mechanism, etc. The Indian competition regime has come a long way in the fields analysed above and it still has a long way to go to maintain the “fairplay” in Indian markets.

————-

* IIIrd year students, BA, LLB (Hons.), Batch of 2021, National Law University, Delhi.

[1]  Fairplay, Quarterly newsletter of CCI (2016) p. 19.

[2]  Kartik Maheshwari, Simonc Reis Extraterritorial Application of the Competition Act and its Impact, (2012) CompLR 144, 148.

[3]  Haridas Exports v. All India Float Glass Manufacturer’s Assn., (2002) 6 SCC 600 : AIR 2002 SC 2728.

[4]  Haridas Exports v. All India Float Glass Manufacturer’s Assn., (2002) 6 SCC 600 : AIR 2002 SC 2728.

[5]  Competition Act, 2002, S. 27.

[6]  Competition Act, 2002, S. 47.

[7]  Film & Television Producers Guild of India v. Multiplex Assn. of India, 2013 SCC OnLine CCI 89.

[8]  CCI, Shamsher Kataria v. Honda Shiel Gas India Ltd., 2015 SCC OnLine CCI 114 : [2015] CCI 133

[9]  Maharashtra State Power Generation Co. Ltd. v. Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd., 2017 SCC OnLine CCI 11.

[10]  (2005) 2 SCC 145.

[11]  Competition Act, 2002, Ss. 42, 48.

[12]  (2010) 7 SCC 751.

[13]  (1998) 4 SCC 90.

[14]  CCI, (n. 8)

[15]  State of U.P. v. Mohd. Nooh, AIR 1958 SC 86.

[16]  2013 SCC OnLine Comp AT 132 : [2013] Comp AT 122.

[17]  Competition Commission of India, Annual Report 2015 (2016), p. 50.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Competition Commission of India (CCI): A Four member bench comprising of Sudhir Mital, Chairperson and Augustine Peter, UC Nahta, members and GP Mitta, J., directed for a matter to be closed under Section 26(2) of the Competition Act, 2002 due to the dispute falling under the arena of a consumer forum.

The issue raised in the present matter was filed under Section 19(1) (a) of the Competition Act, 2002 against Shoppers Stop Limited (OP) alleged to have contravened Section 3 of the said Act. The Informant had shopped for an amount of Rs 6,495 from the OP for which he had received two discount coupons worth Rs 500. The informant on his next purchase wished to get his coupons redeemed but was denied on the ground that for redemption there is a requirement of minimum shopping for Rs 4000/ to be done, in regard to the stated fact, the Informant submitted that he was not aware about this condition and due to being a senior citizen he was unable to read the same at the back of the coupon.

Further, the commission on giving due consideration to the submissions of the Informant, clarified by referring to the case of Sanjeev Pandey v. Mahindra & Mahindra, Case No. 17 of 2012 that the CCI is primarily aimed to curb the anti-competitive practices and consumer protection Act, 1985 protects the interests of individual consumers against the unfair practices.

Hence, in the present matter, the dispute is a consumer dispute and no prima facie case is being made out against the OP, therefore, the case has been ordered to be closed under Section 26(2) of the Act. [Rajendra Agarwal v. Shoppers Stop Limited,2018 SCC OnLine CCI 62, order dated 30-07-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Competition Commission of India (CCI): Disposing of an interim application under Section 33 of the Competition Act, 2002 (‘the Act’) by the informant Indian National Shipowners’ Association (‘INSA’ or ‘Informant’) against Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (‘ONGC’ or ‘Opposite Party’) the Commission reiterated the conditions that have to be satisfied before interim relief can be granted under this section. The main clause which was alleged to be one-sided and unfair in this case was Clause 14.2 of the Special Contract Conditions (hereinafter, referred to as ‘SCC’), giving unilateral right of termination without assigning any reason.

The Commission had, vide its order dated 12.06.2018 passed under Section 26(1) of the Act, held the Opposite Party to be prima facie dominant in the relevant market. The Commission was of the view that the stipulation of Clause 14.2 of the SCC was one-sided as it gives an unfettered right to a dominant party to use it in its favour without giving any reciprocal right to the other party and this was prima facie in contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act. Further, the manner in which the termination notices were sent and then consequently withdrawn by the Opposite Party on receiving a reduced offer from the members of the Informant, indicated the imperious approach adopted by the Opposite Party. Accordingly, the Commission directed the DG to carry out a detailed investigation.

In this Application, Commission noted that the principles for deciding the interim relief application under Section 33 of the Act were laid down by the Supreme Court in CCI v. SAIL(2010) 10 SCC 744, wherein it was held that while recording a reasoned order under Section 33 of the Act, the Commission shall, inter alia, ensure fulfilment of the following conditions:

a) record its satisfaction (which has to be of much higher degree than formation of a prima facie view under Section 26(1) of the Act) in clear terms that an act in contravention of the stated provisions has been committed and continues to be committed or is about to be committed;

b) it is necessary to issue order of restraint; and

c) from the record before the Commission, there is every likelihood that the party to the lis would suffer irreparable and irretrievable damage, or there is definite apprehension that it would have adverse effect on competition in the market.

The Commission found that all these conditions were satisfied in this case. However, by extending the undertaking by ONGC to not to invoke Clause 14.2 of SCC till further order the Commission denied to grant the interim relief. [In re, Indian National Shipowners’ Association v. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited, Case No. 01 of 2018 order dated 15.06.2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Competition Commission of India (CCI):  A four-member bench comprising of Devender Kumar Sikri, Chairperson and Sudhir Mital, Augustine Peter and U.C. Nahata, Members, held that opposite parties, ‘Ola’ (OP 1) and ‘Uber’ (OP 2) did not contravene either Section 3 or 4 of the Competition Act, 2002.

The informant- ‘Meru’ cab, informed the Commission that the OPs were collectively the dominant players in the radio taxi services market. They entered into agreements with each other that were detrimental to the competition. The informant raised various points. Firstly, it was alleged that the OPs abused their dominant position by entering into agreements with each other that had an appreciable adverse effect on competition on the market. Secondly, the question was also raised as to the common investors (mainly ‘SoftBank’) which, as alleged, resulted in common control. Thirdly, it was alleged that the OPs had indulged in below variable cost pricing for a period of over two years. Considering the information received, the Commission, on 3-8-2017,  sought further information from the OPs primarily in regard to their shareholding pattern.

The Commission observed that the informant did not place on record any agreement entered into between the OPs and the drivers imposing exclusivity restrictions on drivers in contravention of Section 3(4) read with Section 3(1). Regarding dominance, the Commission was of the opinion that high market share was not in itself an indicator of dominant position. As for the allegation of collective dominance, the Commission observed that Section 4 does not contemplate in its fold the concept of collective dominance. The Commission held that the dominance of either Ola or Uber was not made out. The Commission showed some concern over the fact of common ownership (common investors like SoftBank) and held that policy needs to be framed in that regard, as such overlapping interest may result in the reduction of firms’ incentive to compete. However, on this point too, the Commission held that as per the law as it stood on the day, the OPs could not have been said to contravene the provisions of the Competition Act, 2002. Holding that investigation under the Act could not be held solely based on conjectures and apprehensions, the Commission closed the matter under Section 26(2) of the Act. [Meru Travel Solutions (P) Ltd. v. ANI Technologies (P) Ltd.,2018 SCC OnLine CCI 46, dated 20-06-2018]

Cabinet DecisionsLegislation Updates

The Union Cabinet has given its approval for rightsizing the Competition Commission of India (CCI) from 1 Chairperson and 6 Members (totalling seven) to 1 Chairperson and 3 members (totalling 4) by not filling the existing vacancies of 2 members and 1 more additional vacancy, which is expected in September, 2018 when one of the present incumbents will complete his term.

Benefits:

The proposal is expected to result in reduction of 3 posts of members of the Commission in pursuance of the Governments objective of “Minimum Government – Maximum Governance”.

As part of the Governments objective of easing the mergers and amalgamation process in the country, the Ministry had revised de minimis levels in 2017, which have been made applicable for all forms of combinations and the methodology for computing assets and turnover of the target involved in such combinations, has been spelt out. This has led to reduction in the notices that enterprises are mandated to submit to the Commission, while entering into combinations, thereby reducing the load on the Commission.

The faster turnaround in hearings is expected to result in speedier approvals, thereby stimulating the business processes of corporates and resulting in greater employment opportunities in the country.

Background:

Section 8(1) of the Competition Act, 2002 (the Act) provides that the Commission shall consist of a Chairperson and not less than 2 and not more than 6 members. Presently, the Chairperson and 4 members are in position.

An initial limit of 1 Chairperson and not more than 10 members was provided in the Act, keeping in view the requirement of creating a Principal Bench, other Additional Bench or Mergers Bench, comprising at least 2 members each, in places as notified by the Central Government. In the Competition (Amendment) Act, 2007 (39 of 2007), Section 22 of the Act was amended removing the provision for creation of Benches. In the same Amendment Act, while the Competition Appellate Tribunal (CAT) comprising one Chairperson and 2 members was created, the size of the Commission itself was not commensurately reduced and was kept at 1 Chairperson and not less than 2 but not more than 6 members.

The Commission has been functioning as a collegium right from its inception. In several major jurisdictions such as in Japan, USA and U.K. Competition Authorities are of a similar size.

[Press Release no. 1527701]

Cabinet

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Competition Commission of India: The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has found Grasim Industries Limited (GIL), Aditya Birla Chemicals (India) Ltd. (ABCIL) and Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals Ltd. (GACL)to be in contravention  of the provisions of Section 3(1) read with Section 3(3)(d) of the Competition Act, 2002 for rigging Delhi Jal Board tenders which were floated for procurement of Poly Aluminium Chloride  (PAC) which is used for purification of water.  The final order was passed on a reference filed by Delhi Jal Board (DJB).

While rejecting the plea of being single economic entity taken by GIL and ABCIL, CCI noted in the order that these two companies are not only separate legal entities but also have participated in these tenders individually and separately. Further, CCI noted that the concept of single economic entity has no application in the context of the proceedings initiated under Section 3(3) of the Act, especially in a case of bid rigging/collusive bidding.

Apart from issuing a cease and desist order against the above companies, CCI has imposed a penalty of Rs. 2.30 crore, Rs. 2.09 crore and Rs. 1.88 crore upon GIL, ABCIL  and GACL respectively for the anti-competitive conduct. The penalty has been levied @ 8 % of the average relevant turnover of GIL and ABCIL of preceding three years. In case of GACL, penalty has been levied @ 6 % of the average relevant turnover of preceding three years. The conduct of GIL and ABCIL was noted by the Commission as egregious as these companies while apparently submitting separate bids, prepared and finalised the same through common channels creating a facade of competitive landscape.

Vide separate order passed in another reference filed by DJB in respect of alleged bid rigging in the tenders floated for Liquid Chlorine- another chemical used for purification of water, CCI found no contravention as no analysis was done by the Director General with respect to basic price, transportation cost, taxes and policy of profit margin of the parties as was done in the previous reference. [In re, Delhi Jal Board v. Grasim Industries Ltd., 2017 SCC OnLine CCI 48, decided on 05.10.2017]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Competition Commission of India: The CCI recently passed an order under Sec. 26(2) of the Competition Act wherein the informant had filed information against several banks under Section 19(1)(a) of the above-mentioned Act alleging cartelisation between them to limit or control the safe deposit lockers services offered by them.

The facts of the case are that the informant had tried to avail a bank locker with a bank when he came to know that banks charge a certain amount of rent for providing locker services and the person availing the service is also made to sign an agreement wherein it is agreed that the banks shall hold no liability for any loss sustained to the articles that are kept inside the locker. The Informant noticed that till date no such mechanism has been introduced by banks to compensate their customers for any loss/ damage towards the articles kept inside the lockers. The informant alleged that banks in India have formed a monopoly over the system and them not compensating for any loss/ damage to the articles constitutes as them engaging in Cartelisation.

The informant contended that cartelisation is occurring due to non-compliance towards the principle of “Bailment” under the Indian Contract Act, 1872 by the banks in India. The informant argued that the mandatory agreement which is to be signed by the person applying for availing the bank locker is anti-competitive and prohibitive under Section 3 of the Act. The informant acknowledged that although there is no explicit agreement amongst the banks to show any evidence of such a practice being carried out, it is appropriate to inquire into cases of anti-competitive agreements on the basis of material and doing so will prove this practice amongst banks being anti-competitive. The informant also alleged that the banks have formed an association to prevent improvement of services thus affecting competition in the market and interests of consumers.

The Commission held that since there is no evidence given in regard to the allegation that the banks engage in cartelisation besides merely providing RTI responses that suggest that no responsibility is taken by the banks for any loss/damage to the articles inside the lockers, it cannot be considered by the Commission. The Commission mentioned that certain elements need to be fulfilled for Section 3(3) of the Act to have been contravened, which are:

i. the competitors need to enter into an agreement under Section 2(b) of the Act inclusively as an arrangement in concert or one that is enforceable by legal proceedings; and

ii. the object, if such an agreement is covered under Sec.tion 3(3) of the Act.

The Commission noted that for establishing a case in the preliminary stages, the above-mentioned elements need not be established in great details but there should at least be material that establishes a case prima facie in contravention of Section 3 of the Act. Hence, it held that no such prima facie case is being established considering the material that has been presented by the informant. [Kush Kalra v. Reserve Bank of India, Case No. 23 0f 2017, decided on 23/08/2017]

 

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Competition Commission of India: The Competition Commission of India (CCI) issued an order stating that Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL) introductory offers are not in contravention of Section 4 of the Competition Act, 2002.

The informant alleged that RJIL OP-1 has hidden objectives of abusing its dominant position by use of its financial status. Service users are required to have a smart phone which supports 4G network and voice over LTE. For that, RJIL is offering the 4G compatible Mobile Handsets @ Rs 3000 per handset unit. The informant asked for a detailed investigation on the activities of RJIL.

Commission viewed that the relevant product market in the facts and circumstances of the present case is the market for ‘provision of wireless telecommunication services to end users’. In regard to the relevant geographical market the Commission noted that the relevant geographic market in the instant case appears to be ‘each of the 22 telecommunication circles in India’. Therefore the relevant market in the instant case is the market for ‘provision of wireless telecommunication services to end users in each of the 22 circles in India’.

Commission held that it is difficult to construe dominant position being possessed by RJIL with 6.4% market share and also it is not likely to hold dominant position in such market on account of the presence of other competitors (Vodafone, Idea, etc.) who derive commercial and technical advantages due to their sustained and sound business presence in other telecom services. [In re C. Shanmugam, 2017 SCC OnLine CCI 27, decided on 15.06.2017]