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Grievance raised to seek preferential treatment is antithetical to the very norms and spirit of Competition Law: Competition Commission of India

The Informant was dissatisfied by the conduct of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) as it chose Indane Gas Transporters and did not consider the HP Gas Transporters as per the tender floated to HPCL for procuring services of transportation of packed and sealed LPG cylinders from its bottling plant. It was concluded by the CCI that the dominance of the Opposite Party was not established, thus analyzing the abuse of such position is absurd. Moreover, through this complaint the Informant is only asking for preferential treatment from HPCL to choose HP Gas Transporters; this outrightly violates the principles of Competition Law. This was observed by the CCI in the case of, In Re: Ms. Sanyogita Singh and HPCL and Ors., [ C.No. 33 of 2021] before the Hon’ble Chairperson Ashok Kumar Gupta and Members, Sangeeta Verma and Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi.

The brief facts of the dispute are as follows, Information u/s 19(1)(a) of the Competition Act was filed by the Informant, alleging that the OP intentionally didn’t consider the trucks of HPCL nor consider its bids or negotiate the prices as mentioned in the tender that was floated to HPCL, even though the distributors of HPCL invested in HPCL’s gas cylinders transportation market to accordingly appoint truck drivers, staff, incur maintenance costs and so on; but had accepted the bids of competitors, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited and Indane. The Informant claimed that they suffered an irreparable financial loss and that the OPs engaged in anti-competitive practices by favoring a particular group of bidders who used ‘cartel rates’ and accepted such forbidden rates without negotiating the prices as is required under law.

The Commission stated that, the Informant has failed to provide any information regarding the dominance of OP in the relevant market. “Procurement of services of transportation of packed LPG cylinders by road in India” was defined as the relevant market of the OP by the Commission. After referring to the information available on publicly accessible domains the Commission found out that the OP does not enjoy a dominant position, and its requirements are also less when compared with BPCL and Indane. Therefore, it held that it is unreasonable to examine the conduct of its abuse when it is not a dominant company. It was also mentioned that, it is not necessary that HPCL distributors only should provide their transportation services to HPCL since there was no restriction on participation. Information w.r.t cartelization was also not provided by the Informant.

Therefore, the Commission held that, “it appears that OP is not dominant in the relevant market. Given that OP is not a dominant firm, it is unnecessary to examine if the alleged conducts constitute an abuse of dominant position under the provisions of the Act. Even otherwise, the grievance raised by the Informant seeking preferential treatment for HPCL gas distributors in respect of the procured services, on the face of it, is antithetical to the very norms and spirit of competition law…. it cannot be the case that HPCL distributors are locked-in with HPCL only to provide their trucking services…. Informant has singularly failed to identify or array any cartel participants, much less indicate the modus and the details in respect of any such purported cartel…. Thus, the Commission concludes that the issues raised by the Informant in the present context do not involve any competition concerns…… no case is made out against the Opposite Parties for contravention of the provisions of Sections 3 and 4 of the Act, and the Information is ordered to be closed forthwith in terms of the provisions contained in Section 26(2) of the Act.”

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Judgement Reviewed by Vagisha Sagar

 

 

 

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