New Delhi: A year after it started looking at cases related to cartelization and abuse of market leadership, India’s competition body is yet to pass judgement on even a single case, and while the general opinion among experts attributes this to a shortage of staff, there is a growing feeling that this inertia could lead to a pile-up and backlog of cases.
There are currently 30 cases before the Competition Commission of India (CCI), armed with more teeth than its predecessor Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission, which had around 2,000 cases pending when it was wound up last year.
A year ago, the new competition body, which has the powers to impose fines and penalties, started investigating six cases related to cartelization and abuse of dominant position.
The director general, CCI, submitted investigation reports in all six cases between September 2009 and April 2010, but “due to shortage of staff and lack of expertise, CCI has not been able to dispose off a single case”, said a senior official at CCI, who did not want to be identified. The official added that the agency has around 20 people on its rolls and is in the process of filling key positions.
CCI chairman Dhanendra Kumar did not respond to emails seeking comment. He could not be reached over phone.
The official at CCI did not provide details of the investigation in the six cases, but said these include responses from the companies involved.
Interestingly, one of these involves the fight between multiplex owners and movie producers on revenue sharing. This was the first case lodged with the commission and which ended in 2009 with a settlement between the two parties.
A senior Delhi-based lawyer, who did not want to be identified, said CCI was treading carefully as it also has the power to impose fines and penalties. “However, five to six months is good enough to take action on cases where the director general has given the report. Otherwise, cases will pile up and delays will become a regular feature,” this person said.
Meanwhile, one of the lawyers involved in a case where CCI’s investigation is yet to be completed, complained about the agency’s slow progress. “It’s frustrating that while CCI has a deadline for taking responses from parties, it has no deadline for disposing off cases,” added this person, who is representing one of the parties in a case involving currency futures.
MCX Stock Exchange Ltd (MCX-SX), the currency futures trading arm of Multi Commodity Exchange of India Ltd, had charged the National Stock Exchange of India Ltd (NSE) of adopting predatory pricing techniques resulting in abuse of dominant position.
CCI, however, has its defenders.
Another lawyer, Anand Pathak, attributed delays to staffing issues and the complexity of cases. “The commission is severely short-staffed and then there are extremely complex cases like those of MCX-SX and NSE. Dealing with predatory prices will be difficult with any competition authority in the world and the CCI has just started functioning,” he said.
Pathak added that he believes CCI will find its feet in six-eight months.
CCI received statutory powers as a competition regulator in 2007, and started looking into cases of cartelization and abuse of dominant position only last year. It will also approve mergers and acquisitions, but its powers in this area are yet to be notified by the government.