The Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India (MCA), has through a notification published on August 30th, 2017, exempt reconstitution, transfer of whole or any part thereof and amalgamation of nationalised banks under the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1970 and Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1980, from merger control scrutiny for a period of 10 years (Notification).
The Competition Commission of India (Lesser Penalty) Regulations, 2009 (Leniency Regulations) have been amended by a notification issued on 22 August 2017 (Notification). The Leniency Regulations supplement Section 46 of the Competition Act, 2002, which sets out the statutory provision for grant of leniency in matters involving cartels and enables parties to ‘blow the whistle’ on cartel arrangements and avail up to 100% reduction in penalties.
The amendments have been introduced after nearly seven years since the introduction of the leniency regime in India, addressing substantive issues faced by the industry. The formal amendments are largely in line with the draft amendments issued in March 2017 wherein the Competition Commission of India (CCI) invited comments from various stakeholders.
This update briefly captures the key amendments and the potential implications on the effectiveness of the leniency programme in India.
The latest addition to the string of changes introduced by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) this year is an exemption to Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) from the applicability of the merger control regime. The MCA introduced a notification on August 10, 2017 (Notification), which stipulates that Sections 5 and 6 of the Competition Act, 2002 (Act), which relate to regulation of combinations, will not apply to amalgamations of RRBs for which the Central Government has issued a notification under Section 23A(1) of the Regional Rural Banks Act, 1976 (RRB Act). This exemption is applicable for a period of five years, i.e., until August 9, 2022.
The RRB Act was enacted to provide for the incorporation, regulation and winding up of RRBs in order to develop the rural economy and particularly enhance the credit facilities available to marginal farmers, agricultural labourers, artisans and small entrepreneurs. Under section 3(1) of the RRB Act, the Central Government can establish a RRB in any state or union territory, upon a request being made by a bank that proposes to sponsor the RRB.
The nature of regulations, enforcement authorities and their ability to enforce regulations has been known to have a profound effect on innovation.
As the internet transforms industrial processes, regulators across sectors and geographies are trying to achieve the right balance on regulating innovation – enough so that it is under effective control yet not stifled from growing.
In a recent policy brief on behalf of the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative, Kevin Werbach, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, advises policy makers and regulators that the next stage of digital advancement will lead to a phenomenon that he calls “Internet of the World” – an intersection of the on-demand/sharing economy, the Internet of Things and Big Data. He suggests that this stage would represent “the final destruction of artificial divisions between real and virtual”.
As we approach this stage at a rapid pace, law-making and regulation needs to evolve accordingly. Laws need to reflect the rapidly blurring boundaries between the physical and digital so that regulators are suitably equipped to accomplish their tasks across all mediums and sectors.
This article was first published in The Practical Lawyer
The Competition Act, 2002 (the Act) was brought into force inter alia with the objective of curbing anti-competitive behaviour which causes appreciable adverse effect on competition in the Indian market, to ensure a fair competitive environment. Although one does not find any mention of consumer welfare in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act, the preface to the Act unequivocally lays down its spirit by providing that it intends to promote and sustain competition in the markets, to protect the interest of consumers and to ensure freedom of trade carried on by other participants in the market…
In furtherance of this objective, the Act empowers the Competition Commission of India (CCI) with multifarious penal powers to ensure compliance with the legal regime. However, such provisions are predominantly directed towards penalising the violators rather than compensating the parties affected by the anti-competitive behaviour of one or more market players. To ensure that the victims of anti-competitive behaviour receive their dues, the Act also lays down a mechanism for such parties to seek compensation for the losses that they may have suffered due to the anti-competitive behaviour.
The private damages regime under the Indian competition law, which came into force in 2009, lays down the legislative foundation for consumers and competitors to sue for compensation in relation to the damages suffered as a result of the anti-competitive behaviour. Considering that the Competition Law is still in nascent stages in India, there has been no ruling pronounced in this space until date. While the case involving the National Stock Exchange (NSE) and the MCX Stock Exchange (MCX- SX) remains the sole case to utilise the private enforcement provisions of the Act, the matter remains sub judice. Curiously, in the celebrated case involving DLF, while private damages litigation was drawn up against DLF, it was consequently withdrawn.
The enforcement of any new law can throw many issues. These become especially prominent in the case of a law that is brought into force in phases – i.e. different provisions are made operational at different times.
The Competition Act, 2002 (Competition Act) is one such legislation. Though the statute was passed in 2003, its phase-wise notification extended up till 2011. More importantly, the sections/ provisions relating to anti-competitive agreements were notified to come into force from 20 May 2009. The application of a provision/ section after an event is one such prickly issue.
The Supreme Court of India (SC) has examined the issue in the context of the Competition Act in the recent decision of Excel Crop Care Limited v Competition Commission of India & Anr.
Non-compete clauses form an important part of various corporate transactions. They provide purchasers some protection against competition from sellers so that they may benefit by obtaining the full value of the transferred assets (both tangible and intangible). Such non-compete clauses can be necessary for purchasers to gain the loyalty of customers and to fully utilise the know-how acquired. In the case of Joint Ventures (JV), such clauses can be necessary to ensure that the JV partners are committed to the JV and do not, independently, end up competing with it.
However, these clauses, as they are essentially agreements not to compete, can give rise to competition law concerns and lead to scrutiny by the Competition Commission of India (CCI).
Keeping with the slew of changes introduced this year, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India (“MCA”) has yet again altered the Indian merger control regime, by doing away with the mandatory 30 day deadline for filings notifications, post the trigger event. This brings the Indian merger control regime in sync with most mature competition law regimes, which do not have a fixed timeline within which a merger notice must be filed with the regulator.
By virtue of its powers under Section 54 of the Competition Act, 2002 (“Act”), which allows the Central Government to exempt the applicability of any of the provisions of the Act for a specified period, the MCA has introduced a notification on June 29, 2017 which exempts an enterprise, from filing a notice within 30 days, for a period of five years, i.e., until June 28, 2022 (“Notification”).
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India has again extended the exemption granted to Vessels Sharing Agreements (VSA) of Liner Shipping Industry from the provisions of Section 3 (i.e., anti-competitive agreements) of the Competition Act, 2002 (as amended) (Act) for a period of one year, with effect from 20 June 2017 (VSA Exemption). The VSA Exemption applies to carriers of all nationalities operating ships of any nationality from any Indian port as long as such agreements do not include concerted practices involving fixing of prices, limitation of capacity or sales and the allocation of markets or customers.
As soon as the details were disclosed, the Finance Bill, 2017 raised eye-brows . Some noted that:
- To minimise the number of tribunals, the Finance Bill, 2017 sought to merge eight tribunals with other tribunals and amended provisions relating to the structuring and re-organization of such tribunals.
- The above measures were sought to be taken through a money bill, which is only supposed to contain provisions for imposition of taxes and withdrawal of money from the State Treasury.