In a fascinating judgement the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has, in a recent order, let go 10 companies found guilty of cartelisation and rigging railway tenders for around 12 years, with a warning to desist from any such activity in future and no penalty at all.
Interestingly, the commission did not impose a penalty citing the cooperation from offenders during the investigation and the economic impact of the pandemic.
The order passed by the anti-trust body in July was largely unnoticed so far. The 10 companies found guilty in cartelisation and rigging procurement of ‘Composite Brake Blocks’ (CBB) by the railways include Sundaram Brake Lining Limited, a TVS Group company and Escorts Limited (Railway Equipment Division), an Escorts Group company.
The companies are Hindustan Composites Ltd, Industrial Laminates (India) Pvt Ltd, BIC Auto Pvt Ltd (now Masu Brake Pads Private Limited), Rane Brake Lining Ltd, Om Besco Super Friction Pvt Ltd, Cemcon Engineering Co, Bony Polymer Pvt Ltd, Daulat Ram Brakes Mfg Co.
Understanding the Indian Railways’ procurement methodology and going through evidence collected, the Director General who investigated the matter concluded that the companies were indulging in cartelisation during the period 2009 to 2017.
“The DG found that OP-1 (Opposite Party) to OP-10 used to decide the prices and quantities to be quoted by them in the various tenders floated by Indian Railways and other entities for the procurement of CBBs,” the order said.
The DG also found that officials of eight of the 10 companies admitted that they had formed a cartel to rig the bids of different tenders of CBBs floated by the Indian Railways and other entities. Further, with regard to the remaining two companies, though they did not admit to be a part of the cartel, they did admit that they had exchanged bid-related information through e-mails and messages.
It was found that an employee of a company used to keep the records of allocation of tender quantities amongst all the concerned parties by maintaining excel sheets, which were modified from time to time according to the inputs received from the companies based on lower or higher quantities allotted to them in a particular tender.
“Furthermore, the DG found that OP-1 to OP-10 used to exchange screenshots of their financial bids to ensure that all of them stuck to their promise of quoting the pre-decided prices. It was found by the DG that OP-1 to OP-10 used to meet at different locations to decide the strategy and the modus operandi of their cartel and to resolve the differences amongst them,” the 66-page order said.
Taking into account all evidences collected by the DG, the Commission concluded that the companies and their respective individuals had indulged in cartelisation in the Composite Brake Blocks (CBB) market in India, at least from 2009 till 2017, by means of directly or indirectly determining prices, allocating markets, co-ordinating bid response and manipulating the bidding process, which had an AAEC within India.
“The Commission therefore, holds OP-1 to OP-10 guilty of contravention of the provisions of Section 3 (3) (a), 3 (3) (c) and 3 (3) (d) read with Section 3 (1) of the Act,” it said.
The Commission, in terms of Section 27 (a) of the Act, directed the concerned companies and their respective officials who have been held liable in terms of the provisions of Section 48 of the Act, to “cease and desist in future” from indulging in such practices.
The order said that in such a wide ranging and complex investigation carried by the DG spanning across various tenders floated by various zones and divisions of Indian Railways over a long period of time, “the concerned parties have not only cooperated but have even admitted their respective role/conduct in the said tenders as brought out by the DG”.
“It cannot be gainsaid that cooperation to such an extent by the parties concerned is one of the consideration which may be taken into account by the Commission in quantifying the penalties,” it said.
Further, it noted that some of the concerned parties are MSMEs and most of the companies have small annual turnover in the CBB segment.
The Commission said that it is cognisant of the prevailing economic situation arising due to the outbreak of global pandemic (COVID-19) and the various measures undertaken by the government of India to support the liquidity and credit needs of viable MSMEs to help them withstand the impact of the current shock.
“In this backdrop, considering the matter holistically and cumulatively, the Commission, in the interest of justice, refrains from imposing any monetary penalty in the peculiar circumstances of the case, as noted above,” it said.
The order has raised eyebrows due to its lenient nature.
Sumit Batra, Partner at India Law Alliance said the “leniency” will only encourage more such cartels to continue and flourish.
“While recognising the efforts of the Director General who collected direct evidences meticulously in form of WhatsApp messages and emails, the commission observed that ‘nothing can be more incriminating than these’, leaving with only a warning defeats the very purpose why such laws are enacted,” he said.
Sonam Chandwani, Managing Partner at KS Legal & Associates, however, was of the view the leniency is backed by a strict warning from the regulator threatening the offenders against recidivism and ultimately facilitating discipline in the behaviour of the market participants.
CMS launches AI-automated ATM security software ‘Algo’
Mumbai, Oct 14 (IANS) CMS Info Systems (CMS) has announced the launch of fully automated, Artificial Intelligence-powered ATM security software application ‘Algo’.
CMS Algo is an end-to-end security encrypted a fool-proof solution to prevent ATM frauds at the time of cash replenishment or maintenance, the company said in a statement.
The application is machine-agnostic and can operate on any ATM manufactured by any OEM.
Rajiv Kaul, Executive Vice Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Whole-time Director of CMS Info Systems, said: “This application can run on any ATM across the world and helps in fraud prevention. The solution is cost-effective in the back-end and low cost in the front-end.”
“The biggest saving is the reduction of fraud, no requirement of a call centre, and restricted access to data and premises,” he said.
He noted that the company has deployed Algo on 52,000 ATMs in India.
CCI okays Tube Investments’ stake buy in CG Power
New Delhi, Oct 14 (IANS) The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has approved the acquisition of shares in CG Power and Industrial Solutions Ltd by Tube Investments of India Ltd.
The proposed combination envisages acquisition of more than 50 per cent of the equity share capital of CG Power and Industrial Solutions Ltd (CG Power) by Tube Investments of India Ltd (TIIL).
TIIL is a listed entity and is part of Murugappa group. It has three business verticals including engineering, metal formed products and bicycles. It is engaged in the manufacture of a wide range of products for automotive, railway, construction, mining and agriculture industries.
Also a listed entity, CG Power has two major business units — power systems and industrial systems.
The power systems business unit focuses on power transmission, distribution, power solutions, setting up of integrated power systems among others.
Uber hires Amazon veteran to lead mobility teams in Bengaluru
Uber on Thursday announced it hired Amazon veteran Manikandan Thangarathnam as senior director to lead all rider and platform engineering teams in Bengaluru.
Uber said it is also hiring 85 more engineers in the country. This is in addition to hiring 140 engineers the ride-hailing service announced last month.
“As the world steps into a new normal, adaptability is going to be a key aspect to usher in growth. I look forward to leading the bright minds at Uber and innovating together for the world, one ride at a time,” said Mani.
At Amazon, Mani helped build several core platforms and products.
He led engineering efforts for the Amazon Appstore and was instrumental in bootstrapping the tech major’s Chennai office and building a vast team of engineers.
The Rider mobility team works on the challenge of enabling the next billion trips by building new services including high capacity vehicles (Uber bus), and car rentals, among others.
The company said the Marketplace team is building a highly-available and scalable self-serve gateway to configure, manage, and monitor Application Programming Interfaces (API) of every business domain at Uber.
Uber recently hired another Amazon veteran Jayaram Valliyur as senior director to lead its global finance technology team, spread across multiple geographies.
OnePlus investing Rs 100 crore to boost retail footprint in India
Smartphone maker OnePlus is committed to invest Rs 100 crore towards deeper market penetration by taking premium offline experience beyond metro cities and expanding its reach through new online and offline retail partnerships, a top company executive said on Thursday.
With over 5,000 offline stores including partnered stores across the country, the smartphone maker is planning to scale up to more than 8,000 stores in the coming quarters, Navnit Nakra, VP and Chief Strategy OnePlus India told IANS.
“At present, we have over 30 OnePlus experience stores across India and will be opening 14 new experience stores in the next six months.
“We’ll launch our biggest experience store globally, the OnePlus Nizam Palace in Hyderabad later this year. We are also working towards covering 100 cities through our service centre network in the next year,” Nakra informed.
The smartphone maker launched its India R&D centre in 2019 and is committed to achieve long-term growth in the country.
Currently, the company has 300 employees in the R&D team and hope to double that number in the coming months.
Nakra said that India continues to be a key market for OnePlus since the brand’s entry in 2014.
“We began our commitment to Make in India initiative in February 2018 and since then, we have been manufacturing our devices in the country. We have also commenced the manufacturing of the OnePlus TVs and OnePlus Nord in India,” Nakra told IANS.
By 2021, all OnePlus TVs will be manufactured locally in India.
“On our smart TV portfolio, we commenced the manufacturing of the Y series in India and by 2021, all OnePlus TVs will also be manufactured locally including the Q and the U series,” Nakra informed.
He said that 100 per cent of OnePlus smartphones are being manufactured in India including OnePlus 8 series, OnePlus Nord and the recently launched OnePlus 8T.
OnePlus has launched its new flagship 5G smartphone the ‘OnePlus 8T’ with 120Hz Fluid AMOLED display and quad-camera set up, in India.
The OnePlus 8T will be available in two colours, aquamarine green and lunar silver at Rs 45,999 (12GB RAM+ 256GB internal storage) and Rs 42,999 (8GB RAM+128GB internal storage).
“OnePlus is consistently exploring opportunities to fuel its growth and meet the needs of more users, by starting to strategically diversify into new product categories and new price points but, at the same time, not compromising on our OnePlus promise,” Nakra told IANS.
OnePlus Nord series is also likely to get new entrants this month, according to multiple reports.
The rumoured OnePlus Nord N10 5G and OnePlus Nord N100 are said to be launching as soon as the end of October, first in the US market.
Sensex in red amid volatility on global cues
Amid a largely volatile trade, the key Indian equity indices traded in negative on Thursday morning.
Weakness across Asian markets and fading hopes of a further stimulus in the US, weighed down on the investor sentiments, analysts said.
At 10.25 a.m., Sensex was trading at 40,643.97, lower by 150.77 points or 0.37 per cent from its previous close of 40,794.74.
It opened at 41,048.05 and has so far touched an intra-day high of 41,048.05 and a low of 40,541.13 points.
The Nifty50 on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) was trading at 11,953.30, lower by 17.75 points or 0.15 per cent from the previous close.
US stocks drop as stimulus hopes wane
Wall Street’s major averages finished lower on Wednesday as investors grew concerned over the uncertain fate of a US coronavirus stimulus deal.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 165.81 points, or 0.58 per cent, to 28,514.00. The S&P 500 fell 23.26 points, or 0.66 per cent, to 3,488.67. The Nasdaq Composite Index sank 95.17 points, or 0.80 per cent, to 11,768.73, Xinhua news agency reported.
Eight of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors declined, with consumer discretionary down 1.43 per cent, leading the laggards. Industrials closed up 0.54 per cent, the best-performing group.
US-listed Chinese companies traded mostly lower, with six of the top 10 stocks by weight in the S&P US Listed China 50 index ending the day on a downbeat note.
Investors continued to look for clues on new stimulus. An impasse among US lawmakers in Washington has somewhat dimmed hopes that more Covid-19 relief aid would come to fruition before the election.
“We have two sides that are very far apart in terms of arriving at some form of stimulus, and I do not think it is likely we see a breakthrough before the election,” Mitch Zacks, CEO at Zacks Investment Management, said in a note on Wednesday.
Looking ahead, analysts said markets will remain sensitive to news of fiscal support in the lead-up to the election.
Meanwhile, Wall Street pored through newly-released earnings reports.
Goldman Sachs on Wednesday delivered quarterly results that well exceeded consensus estimates. Its shares rose 0.2 per cent.
Bank of America shares fell more than 5 per cent after its earnings topped expectations and overall revenue missed estimates.