The Competition Commission of India (CCI) told the Karnataka High Court on Wednesday that it will not act against Google in the probe initiated by the competition watchdog against the tech giant in relation to its play store rules [Google India Pvt. Ltd. vs. Competition Commission of India].
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) N Venkataraman appearing for the CCI made a “gentlemen’s promise” that there will be no action against Google.
However, the ASG requested single-judge Justice BM Shyam Prasad not to pass orders in this regard, stating that Google may misuse the same to delay proceedings.
Justice Prasad was hearing a petition filed by Google against an order of the CCI seeking a response to an interim application filed by certain start-ups and app-developers against its latest play store policy.
Google argued that the application shared with the company did not contain complete information and contained redactions over names and identities of app-developers and start-ups, which prevented Google from making a case.
Senior Advocate Gopal Subramanium appearing for Google informed the Court that the urgency arose since the company received a redacted version of the application seeking interim relief, and the CCI sought a response by December 31.
It was submitted that if the response was not filed by the stipulated date, the CCI would proceed to hear the case based on the material on record.
Additionally, the Senior Counsel informed the Court that none of the three grounds for withholding information under Regulation 35 of the Competition Commission of India (General) Regulations had been pleaded.
Responding to the concerns of Google, Additional Solicitor General Venkataraman assured the Court the petitioner could defer filing till the Court’s reopening.
Despite, the Court’s insistence to limit arguments to urgency, the ASG sought an opportunity to respond to the petitioner’s contention regarding lack of information affecting their defence.
“What is that redacted information? We have not withheld any information regarding what Google has to respond. We have only withheld information on small app developers,” the ASG said.
It was the respondent’s contention that Regulation 35 gave mandatory protection to informants, which is why their details were withheld and Google “just wants a hunt on them”.
With this, the ASG gave his word that no action would be taken before the next date of hearing.
“On gentlemen’s agreement, there will be no precipitation till then. It’s an oral undertaking I give on behalf of CCI,” he said.
Senior Counsel Subramanium expressed confidence in the ASG’s word, although Senior Advocate Sajan Poovayya did not share this sentiment.
“Please see, there is an order Page 76, says that if no response is received by the 31st, the commission shall proceed in the matter, on the basis of material record. Now, they say there is a gentlemen’s promise. I am faced with an order and a gentlemen’s promise,” Poovayya said.
However, Justice Prasad went on to list the matter on January 5, 2022, with the observation that, “the unanimous submission is that there will be no precipitation in the matter till the next date of hearing.”