Data Protection and Competition Law: Developments and the Way Forward

In the last decade the digital sector has witnessed tremendous growth – while this has given rise to new business models, opened up new markets, and unlocked significant efficiencies, it has also raised concerns that tech giants may use the excessive amounts of user data they hold, to influence digital markets to their advantage. However, there are also apprehensions regarding the use of competition law (instead of privacy and consumer legislations) to address such concerns. This note provides a brief overview of the existing legal framework on data privacy in India, analyses the CCI’s decisional practice in this regard, and suggests an appropriate way forward for the CCI on this matter.


Karnataka High Court’s Dismissal of Amazon and Flipkart’s Petitions – An Opportunity Missed?

The Karnataka High Court has, on 11 June 2021, dismissed the writ petitions filed by Amazon and Flipkart challenging the Competition Commission of India’s order issued under Section 26(1) of the Competition Act, 2002, directing the Director General to investigate certain alleged anti-competitive practices. While the Karnataka High Court’s judgment appears to follow well-established legal principles laid down by the Supreme Court of India, a closer examination reveals that some of the key arguments raised by Amazon and Flipkart have only been given a cursory consideration by the Karnataka High Court. Amazon and Flipkart have preferred an appeal against this judgment before a division bench of the Karnataka High Court.  This note analyzes the judgment passed by the single judge bench of the Karnataka High Court.


FDI in India

Impact of COVID-19 on FDI Regimes – One Year Later

In a significant move more than a year ago, the Indian Government directed that all investments from countries that share land borders with India will require prior regulatory approval. This change covered both direct and indirect investments and came in the wake of scrutiny by the Indian securities regulator of Chinese ownership of portfolio investors and the introduction of stricter FDI regimes worldwide. It may be time for the Government to consider whether the rules introduced in 2020 are justified any more in their current form. If not, certain modifications could be considere


FDI in India

Treatment of ‘Inter-Connected’ Transactions under Indian Competition Law

Under the Competition Act, 2002, transactions that qualify as a ‘combination’, are required to be notified to, and approved by, the Competition Commission of India (the “CCI”) prior to completion, unless any exemptions apply. If addition, all transactions that are ‘inter-connected’ with such ‘combination’, are also required to be notified to the CCI in a single application along with the combination. This applies irrespective of the inter-connected transaction being exempt from notification requirement on a standalone basis, and the inter-connected transaction may not be completed prior to receipt of the CCI’s approval. However, the identification and treatment of such ‘inter-connected’ transactions is fraught with uncertainty. This note aims to provide an overview of the existing Indian merger control framework and identify certain issues often faced by stakeholders in this regard.


Sharing of Unpublished Price Sensitive Information on WhatsApp and “Innocent Tippee” Liability

In 2020, a set of orders were issued by the SEBI in which the SEBI imposed penalties on certain individuals for forwarding WhatsApp messages with details of companies’ earnings ahead of formal announcements. These individuals received such messages on WhatsApp groups that they were a part of, and forwarded such messages as they had received them. The SEBI refused to accept the defense that the information shared was simply market chatter that was “heard on the street” and was not unpublished price sensitive information (“UPSI”). The SEBI’s orders were recently overruled by the Securities Appellate Tribunal (“SAT”). The SAT ruled that information could be considered UPSI only when a person in receipt of such information had knowledge that it was UPSI.


Regulating Big Data: Contextualising CCI Probe into WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy

The CCI’s recent order directing an investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy policy provides us with the opportunity to look at how competition regulators, both in India and abroad, have sought to regulate data collection and sharing. There are multiple concerns to be balanced in this process – the ability of businesses with large data sets to better serve customers, entry barriers to new business with access to comparatively smaller data sets, and increased consumer dependency on a limited set of players. The CCI’s recent order could be indicative of its recognition of these concerns and its intention to take a more interventionist approach where it believes that user data is being exploited in a manner that creates entry barriers or otherwise adversely impacts competition or consumers’ interests.


Tata-Mistry Case: A Bittersweet Victory for the Tata Group

On March 26, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict in a matter that has grabbed headlines for more than four years. Two prominent business groups, historically inter-connected with each other in multiple ways, have engaged in a no-holds-barred battle that by all accounts will be a significant marker in the history of corporate India. It started at a board meeting of Tata Sons on Oct. 24, 2016, when Cyrus Mistry was removed by the board of directors from his position as executive chairman. This led to a series of cascading events that ultimately ended up in the courts.


The Conundrum of “Unpublished Information” under the Insider Trading Regulations

The SEBI’s Insider Trading Regulations prohibit trading in listed securities when in possession of unpublished price-sensitive information (“UPSI”). Therefore one question which invariably needs to be addressed in such matters is whether the information that was alleged to be UPSI was “unpublished”. In a recent order issued by the SEBI in February 2021, Future Corporate Resources Private Limited, Mr. Kishori Biyani and certain other persons (together, the “Noticees”) were held to be in violation of the Insider Trading Regulations. It was alleged that the Noticees traded in shares of Future Retail Limited when in the possession of UPSI. The Noticees argued, inter alia, that the information that was alleged to be UPSI was already in the public domain in the form of media reports. This argument was rejected by the SEBI. It was not the first time that such an argument was made. It will likely not be the last. However, the backdrop is that the original 1992 regulations, and then the amendments in 2002 and 2015, have taken divergent approaches on this point. It has also not helped that the orders of adjudicatory authorities on this point have been inconsistent.


SPACs: A ReNew-ed Interest in US Listings

In 2020, over $80 billion was raised in the US from more than 200 SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies), with SPAC IPOs comprising over 50% of US IPOs. While Indian laws have been amended to facilitate cross-border mergers, regulatory and taxation challenges restrict the ability of the parties to efficiently merge an Indian company with the SPAC. The parties’ objectives could therefore be met through externalisation and structuring within the scope of Indian regulations. Apart from the regulatory and taxation challenges involved in a US listing through the SPAC route, Indian companies should also be prepared for compliance with a stringent governance, internal controls, accounting and disclosure regime. Several Indian technology companies have plans to go public. It remains to be seen how many will opt for the SPAC route, which has increasingly emerged as an attractive option for companies around the world particularly in the technology and ESG sectors. In the meanwhile, the SPAC alternative could also well be explored by Indian regulators as a route for listing in India with appropriate safeguards.


IBC: Supreme Court of India Endorses the Fresh Start on a Clean Slate Principle

The Supreme Court of India in the Essar Steel case held that allowing claims apart from those covered in a resolution plan to survive after approval of a resolution plan militates against the rationale of Section 31 of the IBC. The Supreme Court recognized that a successful resolution applicant should be given an opportunity to take over and run the business of the corporate debtor on a clean slate. Subsequently, the legislature introduced Section 32A of the IBC to provide that a corporate debtor shall not be prosecuted for an offence committed prior to the corporate insolvency resolution process, subject to certain conditions. Recently, the Supreme Court dismissed a writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of Section 32A of the IBC. The Supreme Court issued an unequivocal declaration of the need to give the successful resolution applicant a fresh start.