The fact that nobody, even leaders of the e-commerce sector, is above the law, has been reiterated once again as Amazon and Flipkart’s pleas of having the probe against them halted have been dismissed by the Supreme Court on Monday. The apex court of the country refused to stop the probe by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) against Flipkart and Amazon for allegedly violating the laws of the land.
As part of the investigation, Flipkart has been asked to provide details like a list of its top sellers, details of online discounts, and pacts with smartphone makers.
In June, the CCI (the antitrust agency of the country) had been given the green light to resume the probe against the two e-commerce powerhouses over allegations of violating the provisions of the competitive law of the land (mainly by abusing their dominant status in the market to stifle competition) and giving preferential treatment to select sellers. Both Flipkart and Amazon opposed the probe and challenged it, denying any wrongdoings on their part and arguing that the CCI did not comply with internal criteria for minimum evidence before ordering its probe and that it has not highlighted any agreement that violates existing laws.
However, a three-member bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana and comprising of Justices Vineet Saan and Surya Kant felt differently, and they said that Amazon and Flipkart should volunteer for such investigations.
“We expect organizations like Amazon and Flipkart… big organizations… they have to volunteer for inquiry and transparency. We expect that… and you don’t even want (an) inquiry,” the Chief Justice said, adding, “You have to submit an inquiry has to be conducted.” The two companies have four weeks to join the inquiries against them.
Both companies had approached the Supreme Court after the Karnataka HC dismissed their pleas, seeking relief from the investigation of the CCI. “The inquiry cannot be crushed at this stage. If the appellants aren’t involved in violations of any provisions of the competition law, they should not feel shy in facing an inquiry by the Competition Commission of India,” the Karnataka HC had observed then.
The investigation, in turn, came after numerous allegations came up against the two companies. Flipkart especially has been accused by brick-and-mortar sellers of favoring select sellers on its platforms. Something similar was pointed out by the CCI last year. “These platforms (Flipkart and Amazon) are capable of influencing prices being charged by sellers by providing several discounts as well as inventory to the sellers,” it had said. The e-commerce giants were also alleged of using anti-competitive practices such as predatory pricing, deep discounting, exclusive partnerships, and preferential listing.