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Cosy Competition / Issue 75

Legally India newsletter
Legally India newsletter

After a long slumber, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) fired its first warning shot across the bow of corporate India this week, allegedly slapping Kingfisher Airlines with a maximum fine of Rs 1 crore for not having played along with investigations.

Nevertheless, in the big picture the fine is small fry and will barely dent bottom lines but there is little doubt that corporate India will have noticed, where according to a number of competition law partners a lackadaisical attitude towards cartels and monopolies has been rampant and intentional, aware of the limited sanctions.

In parliamentary questions this week it was revealed that the CCI now had 130 cases on its plate and had dealt with only 37 and is still without merger control powers.

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But if a big cartel decision by the CCI is now around the corner, as many expect, Trilegal seems to have picked a good time. Allen & Overy’s Indian best friend has enticed former NLS Bangalore professor Rahul Singh to private practice to work full-time on competition law, with one Trilegal counsel also having profited from a six-month secondment in A&O’s global competition practice.

Other best friends may now become a little more distant. Clifford Chance India head Chris Wyman, who spent 16 months in India on extended AZB duty, has retired. By all accounts the self-professed India-phile has forged a great number of personal friendships and will be sure to return to India for pleasure, as well as perhaps on business if his plans to take up a non-law retirement gig come true.

But it is fair to ask whether Wyman has been able to institutionalise the CC-AZB relationship in the 16 months he has been there or whether it remains anchored to a smaller number of key partners, two of whom have now left their respective firms,

In terms of domestic workflows, AZB needn’t worry after closing the $450m Axis Bank – Enam Securities takeover with Amarchand. For the mega M&A work the number of go-to firms in India remains tight.

For the other foreigners, business as usual in the Chennai writ petition against them this week with another two-month postponement in hearings until 2011. However, the BCI has intimated that a committee would be formed to discuss the issue with the foreign firms in more detail, although that too is a line only all too familiar for decades now with only little change.

One of solicitor general and BCI chief Gopal Subramanium’s known interests in the issue is whether foreign lawyers would be allowed to appear in arbitrations on Indian soil, although the point is arguably moot and displacing Singapore as arbitration capital will be a long game. Meanwhile the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) has now heard its first two cases in India, after opening in Delhi in 2009 and notifying its rules earlier this year.

Gopal Subramanium on the other hand, can not be having a good past two weeks. After coming under fire from the media in relation to the 2G spectrum scan case, the BCI members rebelled and now the bar exam which he has worked hard for is teetering on the edge of never happening at all. The latest standing is that the exam will happen in March 2011 but 2010 graduates may practise law without the bar exam, provided they solemnly swear to take the exam in future. And the Supreme Court may hear the bar exam transfer petition after all now.

What is certain is that the BCI is effectively headless right now. Despite some organs of the BCI having told students last week that a formal statement on the bar exam was to be made yesterday, nothing has been forthcoming so far. Individual BCI members have proffered various, sometimes conflicting information, and Gopal Subramanium has not been available for comment.

Finally, late last week well-known activist lawyer Prashanth Bhushan rocked India by putting into the public domain a number of incendiary tapes of wiretapped phone conversations between super-lobbyist and PR Nira Radia and a number of India’s rich, famous and influential. The mainstream press has been uncharacteristically quiet, and in an interview with Legally India, Bhushan has now condemnned the cosy relationship between India’s media and its elite. Perhaps it is time to introspect?

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