NCLAT issues notice to CCI, Uber in Meru’s appeal alleging anti-competitive practices

On the digital frontlines, a vigorous struggle for dominance has been taking place in the maze-like streets of India’s thriving cities. The country’s ride-hailing industry has been rocked by a protracted court battle between Meru and Uber, two formidable competitors. In this article, we break down the drama as it is now playing out, highlighting the major moments, delving into the characters, and speculating on the potential repercussions of this on-going judicial battle.

Credits: Money Control

The Dueling Titans

Meru: The Tenacious Veteran

Meru, with a lineage tracing back to 2006, is the grizzled veteran of India’s ride-hailing saga. The name itself has been synonymous with dependable taxi services. Over the years, Meru carved out its niche in the market, known for its reliability and commitment to customer satisfaction.

Uber: The Global Disruptor

In the opposing corner, we have Uber, the global disruptor that needs no introduction. Making its grand entry into the Indian market in 2014, Uber rewrote the rules of the game. Armed with deep pockets and an innovative tech-driven approach, Uber swiftly grabbed a significant slice of the pie, reshaping how Indians commuted.

The Allegations and the Legal Odyssey

Meru’s Salvo (2015)

The genesis of this epic feud lies in 2015 when Meru fired its opening salvo, accusing Uber of anti-competitive practices. Meru’s allegations revolved around Uber’s colossal size, formidable resources, and aggressive pricing tactics. Uber’s irresistible discounts, while delighting passengers, were alleged to be designed to crush competitors.

CCI’s Initial Verdict (2016)

In 2016, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) quashed Meru’s complaint, citing a lack of prima facie evidence against Uber. Meru, however, wasn’t prepared to throw in the towel. It escalated the battle to the appellate tribunal, which, in turn, summoned the Director General (DG) to investigate Meru’s allegations.

Supreme Court’s Intervention (2019)

Uber didn’t take this escalation lightly and sought refuge in the Supreme Court, challenging the tribunal’s order. In a pivotal move, the Supreme Court upheld the directive to probe Uber’s practices. The apex court raised a pertinent question – why was Uber incurring significant losses per trip, raising suspicions about its intent to obliterate competition?

DG’s Verdict (2020)

In August 2020, the DG concluded its exhaustive investigation, delivering a verdict that sent shockwaves. The investigation found that Uber did not enjoy a dominant position in the market, primarily due to fierce competition from Ola and other cab services. Consequently, most of Meru’s allegations found themselves on the scrapheap.

CCI’s Final Verdict (2021)

July 2021 witnessed the CCI delivering the coup de grâce, dismissing Meru’s plea and embracing the DG’s report. Yet, Meru refused to yield and embarked on the last leg of its legal journey, knocking on the doors of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).

The Ongoing Courtroom Drama

NCLAT’s Intriguing Notice (2023)

By sending letters to Uber and the CCI in response to Meru’s bold appeal, the NCLAT has reignited the legal blaze in October 2023. Uber’s purported anti-competitive actions between 2014 and 2017, in notably its aggressive discounting approach, are the focus of Meru’s rallying cry. Meru claims that Uber’s strategies wrecked the ride-hailing universe despite acknowledging the custom of newcomers providing discounts to get a footing.

Conclusion: The Verdict That Echoes

The ongoing legal battle between Meru and Uber in a courtroom is more than simply a legal clash; it’s a turning point for India’s ride-hailing industry. The legal embrace between these two industry heavyweights, each representing a different era, has far-reaching effects. This conflict highlights the value of fair play and the need for distinct regulatory boundaries in the rapidly developing ride-hailing industry. All eyes are on the courtroom as the NCLAT gets ready to drop its gavel in January 2024, eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this gripping and high-stakes saga that will definitely reverberate throughout the Indian commute landscape.