CCI to maintain confidentiality in anti-competition probes: SC

The apex court further said that in case of any breach of confidentiality during the process of investigation, the corporates would be entitled to seek appropriate directions from the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

"Wherever the confidentiality is breached, the aggrieved party (corporate houses) certainly has the right to approach the commission for issuance of appropriate directions," said the three-member bench while laying down guidelines for smooth functioning of the CCI.

The apex court bench, comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, further said that the Director General, Investigations, will have to submit its findings within 45 days of the order of any such enquiry by the CCI.

The commission, according to the order, will have to form an opinion within 60 days "whether prima facie case exists or not in cases of alleged anti-competitive agreements and/or abuse of dominant position".

The CCI and the Directer General, Investigations, would have to ensure that "time taken in completion of such proceedings does not adversely affect any of the parties as well as the open market in the purposeful implementation of the act".

In case the CCI has to pass an interim order during the course of an enquiry, it would also have to pass a final order within 60 days. Commenting on the Supreme Court order, Pallavi Shroff of law firm Amarchand Mangaldas and Shroff said that it was a "positive" order. "Had it not been, it would have crippled the functions of the CCI... The time is changing and laws should also change," she said.

CCI officials, who did not wish to be identified, said the Supreme Court order will pave the way for smooth functioning of the Commission. CCI chairman Dhanendra Kumar, however, could not be contacted for comments.

Diljeet Titus, a senior partner at law firm Titus and Co, said, "The Supreme Court ruling and the directions given by it are welcome and will ensure speedier resolution of commercially sensitive disputes by the CCI."

The apex court further held that the Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT) would not interfere with CCI directions to the Director General, Investigation, to probe alleged offences at the preliminary stage. The bench clearly specified that COMPAT will not entertain appeals at the initial level, which will help in expeditious completion of the probe by the CCI.

"No appeal will lie (with the COMPAT) from any decision, order or direction of the commission which is not made specifically under Section 53A(1)(a) of the (Competition) Act," the Supreme Court said in its 106-page order.

Welcoming the apex court's order, Lalit Bhasin of law firm Bhasin and Co said, "The role of CCI is well-defined under the Act and there is no overlapping with COMPAT. If the tribunal stops any investigation at the threshold limit, then what is purpose of having such a regulatory commission? If CCI is not allowed to investigate, then the basic purpose will be frustrated."

Senior advocate and competition law expert A N Haksar said the Supreme Court has passed a good order that would end the dispute between the CCI and COMPAT. "Even during the older regime, MRTPC, CCI's former edition, the judicial body never interfered in investigations carried out by its probe unit, DGIR," said Haksar.

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