Indian Competition Law in 2019-an overview
Indian Competition Law in 2019-an overview

2019 was an exciting year for Indian Competition Law.

The Govt. set up a high-level Competition Law Review Committee’s (CLRC) under the Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, where Chairman, CCI, several major Law Firms and several experts were Members. The Committee published its Report in a record time, wherein several major recommendations were made with far reaching ramifications. Many of these were also taken up for quick implementation. As a result, the CCI amended the Combination Regulations, 2011 by incorporating the Green Channel approvals, thus making most M&A approvals speedier and smoother. The CCI has already approved several deals under the Green Channel route this year. Among some of the other recommendation, there were, introduction of a Governing Board, sharing of responsibility among members and delegation of powers to different functionaries in the organization, merger of DG Office with CCI, grant of one-time corpus fund to CCI for financial independence, introduction of a dedicated bench of NCLAT for disposal of Competition Appeals, provision of settlements and commitments, broadening ambits of certain provisions to take care for Technology and New Age Markets, of control over data and market power and tweaking of a few other provisions of the Act for greater clarity and coherence and a sharper focus on Advocacy.

In 2019, CCI completed a decade of its functioning after commencement of enforcement, reviewing over 1000 anti-trust cases and 670 merger filings. This year also saw several changes in CCI’s constitution, giving it a leaner look, with retirement of earlier incumbents, and induction of new Chairperson a new Member and a Judicial member.

In another significant initiative, CCI, launched two separate assessments to study the dynamics of the disruptive tech in emerging markets, Telecom and E-commerce sector and Media and Broadcasting sectors.  The final reports are awaited in the first quarter of 2020. The CCI has also been keeping a close watch on the deep discounting by major E-commerce companies.            

CCI also dealt with several landmark cases like Google, Honda Motorcycles, Linde-Praxair, Mahyco-Monsanto, GSK-Pfizer, LPG gas vendors for cartelisation and many others, and demonstrated its professional and mature approach. CCI has also ordered investigations against Maruti-Suzuki, Volleyball Federation of India, OYO and many others, the decisions in these cases are expected to lay down important precedents in competition law.

Keeping up its vigilance, CCI has conducted several dawn raids like previous years on several companies like Mersen, Shivalik Agro and others.

The year 2019 saw several important FDI projects flowing into the country with the CCI clearing each of them in record time, details of a few are:

-Acquisition of a majority stake of 71% in Yatra for $337.8 Mn by Ebix Inc.

-Blackstone Partners-Aakash Educational Services Limited and Byjus’s-Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) investments.

-Acquisition of Aadhar Housing Finance Limited by the Blackstone Partners and other deals in the sector include investment of $250 Mn by the CDPQ in the non-banking arm of Edelweiss Group named ECL Finance Limited.

-4% stake pick by total S.A. for $864 Mn in Adani Gas Limited being the largest FDI investment in the highly regulated gas distribution sector.

-Logistics sector being the arm of e-commerce business saw foreign investments in the form of Delhivery-Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and Shadowfax-Flipkart deals.

CCI has dealt with and approved several many other combination matters resulting out of the IBC route like Bhushan Steel and Tata Steel, Essar Steel and ArcelorMittal, etc. These would help in speedier resolution of stressed assets and bad debts.

In some major jurisprudential developments, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court upheld CCI’s decision in the Rajasthan Cylinders and Containers Limited. Further, the Supreme Court dismissed Uber's appeal against an investigation order by Competition Appellate Tribunal (erstwhile COMPAT, now NCLAT) as the apex court found 'sufficient material for allegations of Uber intentionally losing as much as Rs 200 per ride, offering cheap rides to customers and heavy incentives to drivers, to order an investigation against Uber'.

Further, the Delhi High Court in the Car Manufacturers case held that the scope of the investigation conducted by the DG-CCI on directions received u/s 26 of the Competition Act is not limited to the prima facie opinion expressed by the CCI. In another judgment the Delhi High Court has struck down S-22(3) of the Competition Act, upholding the “principles of natural justice”.

Under Competition Law, Competition Advocacy is equally important as enforcement. Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA) has been roped in as a major collaborator in this endeavour. The CCI has collaborated with CII, FICCI, ASSOCHAM and other major Indian business associations. A series of roadshows in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad, Ahmedabad were held.

As the year 2020 ushers in, it is expected that the Competition Law may undergo some more significant changes with the implementation on several of the remaining recommendation of CLRC which may need amendment in the Act, and jurisprudential elucidation with decisions by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in several important cases. It can also be expected that the Competition Commission may be expanded and may have presence at a few other important centres in the country. Altogether, as FDI inflows in various sectors records steeper jump and further technology-based companies come up, and with the huge growth of home-grown start-ups which may witness considerable investments and M&A, CCI’s systems and decisions may keep pace to facilitate.

The year 2020 promises to be very exciting, like its namesake in cricket, twenty-twenty!