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The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a petition filed by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) seeking directions to vacate a stay order issued by the Karnataka high court on its investigation against Flipkart and Amazon.

However, the apex court asked the high court to decide on CCI’s plea to probe into the alleged anti-competitive practices by the e-commerce giants within six weeks. The SC bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar also asked CCI to approach a division bench of the high court to seek relief.

Following the complaints filed by traders’ bodies, including Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh, CCI on 13 January, had ordered a probe against Flipkart and Amazon for alleged malpractices, including deep discounting and tie-ups with preferred sellers on their platforms. Subsequently, the two e-tailers moved the Karnataka high court seeking a stay and quashing of the probe order.

Amazon had contended in its petition before the HC that the CCI’s investigative order was passed “without application of mind" and would cause irreparable loss/injury to the goodwill/reputation of the company if an investigation is allowed.

On 14 February, a single-judge bench of the high court had granted an interim stay on the investigation order.

Arguing for CCI, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Monday submitted before the apex court that the probe order was administrative in nature and would not affect the rights of any party.

However, after the court refused to interfere with the high court’s order, Mehta urged the court to keep the petition pending. He said there were several wider issues related to this case.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the e-commerce firms, opposed the plea while apprising the bench of procedural gaps. He said the CCI has approached the court after a delay of 200 days and should have approached the high court before appearing before the apex court.

The bench of justices Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheswari and Sanjiv Khanna, while giving six weeks to the Karnataka High Court to hear the matter, said in case the HC does not pass an order, the petition may be heard in the top court.

Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general, Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), has stated: “The order of the apex court has given way to a unique situation—both CAIT and Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh have filed an appeal before a double bench of the Karnataka High Court challenging the single-judge bench order of 14 February. This appeal is already pending before the two-judge bench and the matter is likely to be heard soon. Now, the SC has asked single-judge bench to hear the matter again and decide it within six weeks."

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