The government also ordered it to hear cases that the MRTPC had failed to resolve when it was wound up last year. The government has expanded the mandate of a tribunal, which has been hearing pending cases of restrictive trade practices, to include cases of unfair trade practices and compensation from 18 January, said an official working for the judicial panel.

The three-member Competition Appellate Tribunal (CAT) became operational last October to hear cases against India’s competition regulator, the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

The government also ordered it to hear cases that the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) had failed to resolve when it was wound up last year. At least 2,500 cases were pending with MRTPC.

“CAT has in a little over two months (November-January) disposed over 80 cases, most of them relating to restrictive trade practices,” said justice Arijit Pasayat, who heads the tribunal.

But there was confusion over the fate of hundreds of unfair trade practice disputes and compensation claims, which were meant to be transferred to the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission.

“We (have now) got an order from the government. All UTP (unfair trade practices) and compensation cases will also be heard by CAT,” said a CAT official who did not want to be identified as he is not authorized to talk with the media.

The tribunal will hear its first unfair trade practice-related case, which dates back to 1987, on 18 January. Cases will be heard on a first-come-first-served basis, said the official.

While unfair trade practices relate to false promises or misleading advertisements, restrictive trade practices related to cartelization and dominance-related offences. Compensation cases can belong to either of these categories.

“There are more than 1,100 pending compensation cases, and over 700 cases relating to unfair trade practices,” the CAT official added.

A group of lawyers also want CCI to hear cases relating to unfair trade practices. They have recommended that the Competition Act, which provides the basis for CCI to hear cases of cartelization and monopolies, be amended to bring cases of unfair trade practices under the CCI’s jurisdiction.

“I feel that there is a lacuna in the Competition Act wherein the jurisdiction of unfair trade practice has not been given to the competition commission. Experience has shown that both RTP (restrictive trade practices) and UTP have to exist together,” said advocate O.P. Dua, who practices at the Delhi high court and was associated with MRTPC for a long time.

Dua is also the president of the newly constituted bar association of CAT.

The association has also suggested that CCI become more proactive and include senior lawyers to investigate economic offences. It also wants the authority to investigate cases on its own, rather than rely on complaints.

Dhanendra Kumar, chairman of CCI, said the authority intended to include senior lawyers in capacity building.

He, however, did not comment on the inclusion of unfair trade practice disputes in the CCI’s mandate.

Panel gets first case against CCI

The Competition Appellate Tribunal (CAT) received its first case of appeal against the Competition Commission of India (CCI) on Monday.

“This appeal is by the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) against CCI for its investigation into a complaint made by Jindal Steel and Power Ltd,” said justice Arijit Pasayat, who heads CAT.

The Jindal Group, which also makes rail tracks, had moved CCI in December, complaining that Indian Railways had been buying railway tracks only from SAIL in violation of competition norms. CCI referred the case to its director-general for investigation.

The SAIL appeal with CAT questions why did CCI ask its director-general to conduct the probe, said an official at CAT who did not want to be identified.

“The matter will be taken up on 15 February. Both SAIL and Jindal will be called for hearing,” he added.

A Jindal executive confirmed that his company had approached CCI against the railways. “Yes, we did move the CCI as the railways was not considering buying tracks from us. It is now for the CCI and CAT to decide,” the executive said on condition of anonymity.

CCI chairman Dhanendra Kumar declined to comment on the issue. A SAIL spokesperson was not immediately reachable. A railway official also refused to comment because the matter is in the courts, but added that the company and the railways have a long-standing memorandum of understanding on the purchase of rail tracks.

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September 2021