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CCI’s New Era of Enforcement: An Overview of its Guidelines on Monetary Penalties

Introduction

On 06.03.2024, the Competition Commission of India (‘CCI’) promulgated a significant legal instrument: the CCI (Determination of Monetary Penalty) Guidelines, 2024 (‘Guidelines’)[i]. These Guidelines were established to delineate a clear, structured methodology for the calculation of monetary penalties under the Competition Act, 2002 (‘Act’). This move aims to enhance transparency and uniformity in penal actions for anti-competitive conduct, with the provisions taking immediate effect.

Understanding Current Regulations

The erstwhile monetary penalty imposition under the Act has been subject to judicial scrutiny and debate, necessitating a structured and transparent methodology. Prior frameworks provided discretion without detailed Guidelines, leading to calls for greater clarity and consistency in penalty determinations:

  • The Act stipulates penalties for various anti-competitive conducts but does not prescribe determination methodologies.

  • Previous determinations were primarily based on case-by-case assessments, which, while flexible, often led to inconsistency.

Guiding Principles and Penalty Determination Framework

The Guidelines have been divided into seven structured chapters prescribing the methodology for determination of penalties under various sections of the Act with the last chapter providing for residuary powers of the CCI.

Base Determination for Enterprises: In a bid to harmonize penalty assessments, the CCI has outlined that penalties can be levied up to 30% of the enterprise’s average relevant turnover or income. This assessment will be grounded on: - The nature and severity of the contravention.

The impact of the contravention on the affected industry or sector and its broader economic implications.

The CCI acknowledges the necessity of a nuanced approach, permitting adjustments based on:

  • The duration of the contravention and the enterprise’s involvement.

  • The role of the enterprise in orchestrating the violation.

  • Engagement in coercive or retaliatory practices.

  • History of repeated contraventions.

  • The stage at which any admission of contravention is made.

  • Evidence demonstrating limited involvement.

  • Degree of cooperation with the Director General’s investigation.

  • Voluntary termination of anti-competitive conduct and implementation of compliance programs.

Financial Basis for Calculations: The determination of relevant turnover or income will reference the enterprise’s financial data from the three years preceding the year of receiving the Director General’s investigation report, relying on audited statements or, in their absence, certifications by statutory auditors or Chartered Accountants.

Special Provisions for Cartels: In cases involving anti-competitive agreements by cartels, penalties will reflect the enterprise’s post-tax profits, adhering strictly to the proviso under s. 27(b) of the Act.

Individual Penalties: The Guidelines set a cap on penalties for individuals (liable under s. 48(1) or 48(3) of the Act) at 10% of their average income over the three preceding financial years, calculated based on gross income reported in tax returns. Factors such as the nature of contravention, involvement level, cooperation and income tax returns are to be considered.

Penalties under s. 43A: Failure to notify combinations or contravention of s. 6 or 20 of the Act can attract penalties up to 1% of total turnover, assets, or transaction value, with factors such as compliance, voluntary disclosures, and cooperation during inquiries influencing the final penalty.

General Penalties for Non-Compliance: For violations under ss. 42, 43, 44, and 45 of the Act, the CCI will consider the statutory minimum and maximum penalties, tailored by factors including the nature of non-compliance, misleading information provided, and recurrence of violations. Specific penalties are as follows:

  • S. 42: Up to Rs. 1 lakh per day of non-compliance, to a maximum of Rs. 10 crores.

  • S. 43: Up to Rs. 1 lakh per day of failure, capped at Rs. 1 crore.

  • S. 44: Penalties ranging from Rs. 50 lakhs to Rs. 5 crores.

  • S. 45: Up to Rs. 1 crore for contraventions.

Residuary Powers of CCI: The Guidelines specify that the CCI may deviate in exceptional circumstances, recording reasons for such deviations. Further, it is stated that reduction in penalty amount under s. 46 is to be guided by the CCI (Lesser Penalty) Regulations, 2024.

Conclusion

The CCI’s meticulous approach to the Guidelines emphasizes its commitment to ensuring fair competition and accountability within the Indian market. By providing a clear framework, the CCI not only enhances the predictability of penalties but also aligns India’s competition law enforcement with global best practices. However, the effectiveness of these Guidelines will depend on their pragmatic application and the ability to address the challenges posed by complex corporate structures and international legal standards. As the legal community and businesses adapt to these changes, ongoing dialogue and feedback will be essential to refine and perfect this regulatory approach.


End Note:

[i] No. B-14011/1/2024-ATD-II, dated 06.03.2024.



Authored by Srishty Jaura & Preethi Suresh, Associates at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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