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New Delhi: Film producers have sought more time from the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to file their response to one of the very first cases lodged with the regulator when it began functioning in the middle of 2009.

Multiplex owners had moved CCI against the producers in May for allegedly colluding with each other and stopping the distribution of films to theatres between April and May. The case is continuing, though both sides have patched up.

Notices to producers were issued on 21 December under sections three and four of the CCI Act, which gave them 15 days time to respond, according to a CCI official. “But they have asked for more time," he said, requesting anonymity.

Sections three and four deal with anti-competitive practices and abuse of dominance. Firms violating these sections could be penalized to the maximum of 10% of the average turnover of the preceding three fiscal years.

CCI’s director general of investigations, who probed the case filed by the Multiplex Association of India (MAI), had observed that film and TV producers had colluded to collectively stop the distribution of some films.

MAI had contended that producers were not allowing them to fix ticket prices as a result of which consumers did not have the choice of watching new releases in their halls.

“Parties should respond according to notices sent to them because then it will expedite the process of cases and reduce pendency," said Vinod Dhall, former acting chairman of CCI and now heading Dhall Law Chambers. “After all, it’s the consumer who suffers." The resolution of differences between MAI and the producers has not lead to consumers benefiting, he said.

According to the CCI official, buying time is becoming a habit with respondents. “More recently, the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) wanted more time to respond to a notice sent by CCI on a complaint made by Jindal Steel and Power Ltd on Indian Railways buying railway track only from SAIL," he said. SAIL has appealed against CCI to the Competition Appellate Tribunal.

CCI is stretched with fresh cases being filed and a staff shortage. A total 22 cases are pending with it, which include nine cases in which preliminary investigations have been made and notices sent to respective parties, said another official at the regulator, who also declined to be named.

G.R. Bhatia, partner at Luthra and Luthra Law Offices, said reasonable time has to be given to respondents as CCI investigation reports run into several hundred pages.

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