This article was first published in The Practical Lawyer
Recently, the Government of India decided to merge the Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT) with the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT). While the debate is still ongoing as to the benefits and drawbacks of this decision, it is interesting to see the approach of the COMPAT in a few cases which came before it in the last few months. In the recent past, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has often found itself at the receiving end of the COMPAT, in more ways than one. Several of the CCI’s orders have been set aside, primarily on grounds of failure to adhere to the principles of natural justice. However, following a string of recent orders of the COMPAT, it now appears that the COMPAT has been steadily slipping into the CCI’s adjudicatory shoes!
In a recent decision of the CCI involving alleged abuse of dominance by Gas Authority of India Limited[i], the COMPAT disapproved of the CCI for being overly diligent while passing a prima facie order. The COMPAT noted that at the initial stage of forming an opinion on whether there exists a prima facie case, the CCI is required to merely conduct a preliminary analysis based on averments made in the information. It further noted that the CCI cannot conduct a detailed examination of the allegations, evaluate evidence and record its findings on the merits of the issue given that such exercise can be undertaken only after receiving the investigation report from the Director General (DG). Accordingly, the COMPAT reversed the CCI’s finding of no prima facie violation under the Competition Act, 2002 (Act) and simultaneously directed the DG to investigate the matter.