top of page

Delhi High Court Allows Impleadment of Builders Association of India in the Cement Cartel Case

Introduction

In the case of Ultratech Cement Ltd. v. CCI & Anr[i], The Hon’ble Delhi High Court (‘DHC’) dismissed the writ petition, filed by Ultratech Cement Ltd. (‘Petitioner’), challenging the impleadment of the Builders Association of India (‘BAI’) in the ongoing proceeding before the Competition Commission of India (‘CCI’). The CCI had initiated a suo motu investigation into potential anti-competitive practices including cartelisation and price manipulation by grey cement manufacturers. The BAI's request to join the proceedings as an informant and participate in the investigation was denied.

Facts

The BAI, representing a significant portion of cement consumers, felt they had a stake in the outcome of the investigation by the CCI. Accordingly, BAI filed an application for impleadment requesting to be included in the CCI investigation as a party. BAI argued that their participation was crucial for a fair and comprehensive investigation. Their inclusion, they claimed, would provide valuable insights into the impact of potential cartelisation on the construction industry, a sector heavily reliant on cement. CCI allowed the impleadment application of BAI as a party which was challenged by the Petitioner before the DHC.

Arguments of the Petitioner

  • The Petitioner contended that the BAI was not legally entitled to participate in the investigation, citing that BAI was not directly implicated in any allegations against the grey cement manufacturers at the heart of the investigation.

  • The Petitioner argued that BAI's presence would not add any significant value to the investigation. They asserted that the CCI could gather all necessary information from relevant parties without impleadment of BAI.

  • A primary concern for the Petitioner was the risk of exposing confidential business information to BAI upon their impleadment. The Petitioner emphasized that allowing BAI access to such sensitive data could harm their commercial interests.

  • Additionally, the Petitioner contended that the CCI failed to follow due process in approving BAI’s impleadment under the provisions of the Competition Act, 2002 (‘Act’) potentially violating procedural norms.

Arguments of CCI

  • The CCI contended that under the Act, it had the statutory authority to decide on impleading parties in their investigations. This allowed them to include relevant stakeholders whose participation would contribute to a thorough and fair investigation.

  • The CCI maintained that BAI, representing a substantial segment of the cement market consumers, possessed critical insights into market dynamics. Therefore, their involvement was deemed essential for assessing the broader impacts of alleged cartelization within the construction industry.

  • Emphasizing the principles of transparency and fairness, the CCI argued that the inclusion of BAI helped achieve these objectives, making the investigative process more robust and equitable.

  • The CCI also highlighted its role in facilitating participation from parties potentially impacted by market malpractices, thus broadening the investigation’s scope and enhancing its integrity.

  • Addressing concerns regarding the disclosure of sensitive information, the CCI reassured that BAI had only been given access to non-confidential data that was publicly available, thereby safeguarding the Petitioner’s commercial interests and confidential business information.

Findings of DHC

  • The DHC declined to interfere with the decision of the CCI to allow the impleadment of BAI in the investigation, affirming the autonomy granted by the Act.

  • It concurred with CCI's assertion that it possesses the authority under the Act, to implead parties who can offer valuable insights and significantly contribute to the comprehensiveness of the investigation.

  • Acknowledging the substantial impact of alleged cartelization on the construction industry, the DHC endorsed BAI’s argument that their participation would enhance the investigation’s effectiveness. The DHC also recognized that this inclusion could be achieved without compromising the confidentiality of sensitive information, addressing the Petitioner’s concerns adequately

Analysis

The DHC’s decision emphasized the ‘in rem’ nature of the case, focusing on the anti-competitive practice of cartelization rather than the roles of individual companies. It affirmed that BAI’s involvement in the investigation was pertinent and beneficial, reinforcing CCI's discretion under the Act, to implead parties deemed necessary for conducting fair and thorough proceedings.

While the decision was well-reasoned, it raises important questions about which parties can be impleaded in an ongoing investigation. The petitioner argued that BAI did not have a direct role in the allegations and thus was not on a similar footing as the grey cement manufacturers, suggesting that their impleadment was inappropriate due to potential biases and confidentiality concerns. This argument highlights a nuanced issue: BAI members, comprising builders and others in the construction industry, are customers of grey cement manufacturers. As such, their participation might not be entirely impartial.

The DHC appeared to overlook these potential conflicts of interest, focusing instead on the broader investigatory benefits. While it did not extensively address the petitioner’s concerns about confidentiality, it presumed that the protections for sensitive information were adequate. This aspect of the decision could have significant implications for future cases, particularly in how confidentiality and the impartiality of impleaded parties are handled in complex regulatory investigations.

Conclusion

The DHC's ruling reinforces the CCI’s capability to conduct comprehensive investigations into anti-competitive practices. By affirming the CCI's authority under the Act, to implead parties deemed essential to the investigation, the court has endorsed a more expansive interpretation of the CCI's powers. This decision skillfully balances the imperatives of transparency and fairness with the need to protect confidential business information. It achieves this by allowing the participation of relevant stakeholders in the proceedings, ensuring that the investigatory process is both inclusive and protective of sensitive data. This outcome not only supports the efficacy of regulatory oversight but also upholds the integrity of the judicial process in competitive law enforcement





End Note

[i] 2023 SCC OnLine Del 8078




Authored by Adhijeet Neogy, Intern at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

Commentaires


bottom of page