The Clash Of Jurisdiction Of CCI And TRAI

Dec 2022
Overlapping Jurisdiction

The Competition Act, 2002 read with section 18 of the legislation delegates to the Competition Commission of India (the “CCI”) the duty of “promoting and sustaining competition” in the Indian economy. This implies that the CCI will have principal jurisdiction to regulate conditions of competition in the relevant market of India.

Whereas, Section 11 of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997 (the “TRAI Act”) delegates power to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (“TRAI”) to “facilitate competition and promote efficiency in the operation of telecommunication services so as to facilitate growth in such services”.

The objective of both the legislation is to create an environment that may facilitate fair competition. In fulfilling the concerned objective, the jurisdiction of TRAI and the CCI overlap. They both differ in their mandate and approach which leads to cases of jurisdictional conflicts. From time to time, in many cases judicial courts have tried to resolve jurisdictional disputes between the two.

Resolving the Jurisdiction Dispute:

Finally, On 5 December 2018, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Competition Commission of India v. Bharti Airtel Limited and Others addressed and settled the issue of the ongoing jurisdictional battle between the CCI and TRAI.

The Supreme Court identified a major issue:
(a) Whether the CCI can exercise its jurisdiction when TRAI is already vested with the same?
The Supreme Court opined as follows:
  • The Supreme Court while passing its judgment opined that the questions regarding interconnection agreements and clauses under the same, quality of services, obligations of the service providers are governed under the TRAI Act. The Competition Act is insufficient to decide and deal with the issues arising out of the provisions of the TRAI Act. Therefore, CCI has no jurisdiction on the present matter.
  • But, the Apex Court denied the contention that TRAI has the sole jurisdiction to deal with the issue excluding CCI. TRAI’s determination that the IDOs were in breach would constitute jurisdictional facts based on which the CCI could exercise its jurisdiction. As TRAI had not determined with finality that the IDOs were in breach of the interconnection agreements and that they had acted in concert, no jurisdictional fact was established to give the CCI jurisdiction.
  • The court similarly held that TRAI, as the sect oral regulator, doesn’t have exclusive jurisdiction to rule on competition-related aspects in the industry. It ruled that if TRAI had determined that the IDOs had formed a cartel or colluded to block Jio’s entry, the CCI then would have jurisdiction to decide whether the IDOs’ actions had an appreciable adverse effect on competition. Thus, the jurisdiction of the CCI is not barred, but simply pushed to a later stage.

The judgment has to be appreciated as it has adopted a pragmatic approach and is a step towards certainty, which is indispensable for the growth of any economic law in the country. This decision was necessary to avoid having a concurrent jurisdiction. Going by this way, a balance will be maintained between TRAI and the CCI.

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