NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) that was allowed to probe the role of Monsanto’s top executives for anti-competitive practices under an order of the Delhi high court.

The appeal was heard by a bench comprising Justices S.A. Bobde and Deepak Gupta. The bench sought the CCI’s response on the issue.

Monsanto challenged the impugned order on the ground that the CCI director-general had been allowed to investigate into the role of executives by invoking vicarious liability under Section 48, when the company was yet to be found to be in contravention of anti-competitive laws under provisions of the Competition Act, 2002.

The seed giant had moved the apex court against an 18 December order of the Delhi high court that dismissed its plea to stop the CCI from investigating its executives. A bench comprising Justices Rajendra Menon and V.K. Rao had allowed the CCI’s probe, holding that the officers or directors of a company could be proceeded against, along with the entity.

The division bench relied on Section 27 of the Competition Act, 2002, that holds that the CCI can pass orders against an enterprise, association of enterprise, or a person who has been involved in abuse of dominant position.

Monsanto and its group company, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Pvt. Ltd, had moved the Delhi high court challenging the CCI’s order of 26 July and objected to a probe of its executives while claiming that such a probe could only be allowed if a company did not comply with orders.

The CCI order had asked the seed company to cooperate with the investigation initiated against its executives.

Holding executives responsible for anti-competitive and discriminatory practices while conducting the affairs of the company, the order held that the CCI director-general was bound by duty to look into the role of all persons behind the conduct of a company.

It further held that if an investigation was required to be made by the director-general for unfair business practices, all aspects, including the “role of any person in charge of and responsible for conduct of the business" would be considered.

Monsanto had contended that the competition law could not probe its top executives until the company was found in contravention of competition norms. The Centre had clarified that in the absence of an adverse order against the company, Monsanto’s executives were being investigated for the sole purpose of gathering information.

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