The Supreme Court, on Thursday, declined Google’s appeal to stay the Competition Commission of India’s (CCI) order asking the company to pay ₹1337.76 crore in fines for abusing its dominance in the Android market. The apex court has extended the deadline for depositing 10% of the fine amount by a week.
Google had initially filed an appeal with the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) against the order. However, the NCLAT also declined to grant Google a stay, and instead told the company to pay 10% of the fine, giving the company till January 19 to make the deposit. The SC, noting that it cannot ignore CCI’s reasoning for fining Google, asked the NCLAT to look into the case and dispose of it by March 31.
“This is a landmark decision in the history of competition law jurisprudence in India and globally. CCI's reasoning has been considered by the supreme court which has held that there is no reason to interfere with the CCI order at the interim stage,” said Naval Chopra, Partner, Competition Law Practice at law firm Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.
"SC asking NCLAT to dispose of the case is a discretionary order, which does not dictate the date by when a case is to be disposed but merely expedites its hearing. Nothing more can be read into it," said N.S. Nappinai, cyber law expert and Supreme Court lawyer. "On the issue of the order per se without going into the merits of Google’s case I believe that the SC’s order is a welcome step for India. We have often heard criticism about poor enforcement in India. Here’s an emphatic case of effective enforcement of Indian Laws that proves such criticism wrong and sends out a strong message to the world to take us seriously and to ensure compliance with our ie India’s laws and orders of Courts," she added.
The CCI order said Google violated competition laws by signing agreements with handset makers, etc. which led to the exclusion of its competitors. It specifically noted an agreement called the Mobile Application Distribution Agreement (MADA), which Google signs with handset makers. The CCI noted that the agreement requires handset makers to pre-instal Google services, which cannot be removed from Android phones.
Google had earlier said that complying with the CCI’s order would require the company to change licensing agreements with over 1100 device makers, among others. The company also claimed that complying with the order will increase prices of smartphones, lead to user exclusion and could cause security concerns for users.
This claim, however, was opposed by companies like MapMyIndia and IndusOS who filed impleadment applications against Google. “It was discussed in the court how Google foreclosed rivals such as MapmyIndia due to their anti-competitive practices, harming Indian consumers ability to choose, and harming the Indian economy and rivals such as MapmyIndia,” Rohan Verma, CEO and Executive Director of MapmyIndia said in a statement expressing support for the order.
“Today marks one very critical step towards India breaking free from the digital slavery Google has perpetuated on Indians for the last 15 years, and it is the right moment for all Indians - consumers, media, app developers, OEMs, industry and government - to come together to create the our own indigenous Aatmanirbhar ecosystem that gives India its rightful place at the forefront of the world, independent of foreign big tech monopolies,” he added.