At, Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission New Delhi
By, THE HONOURABLE DR. S. CHAKRAVARTHY
For the Appellant: S. Gupta, Attorney. For the Respondents: R1, B.K. Rath, Proprietor, R2 & R3, B.R. Vig, Advocate.
Dr. S. Chakravarthy, Member
1. This shall dispose of the Notice of Enquiry issued by the Commission on 23rd November, 1995 calling upon B.K. Gas Sales and Services (R1 hereafter), Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, Bombay (R2 hereafter) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, Bhubaneshwar (R3 hereafter) to defend themselves against the charges of certain unfair and restrictive trade practices indulged in by them. The Notice of Enquiry (NOE) was issued under Section 10(a)(iv) and Section 36B(d) of the MRTP Act, 1969 charging the respondents of unfair trade practices falling under Section 36A(1)(ii), (iv) and (vi) and restrictive trade practices falling under Section 2(o)(ii) of the Act.
2. The NOE was based on an investigation conducted by the Director General of Investigation and Registration (DG for short) on a complaint of one Shri B.K. Rautray (complainant hereafter). R1 is a gas distributor of R2 and R3 in Bolangir, Orissa State. It is a proprietory concern. Shri Rautray, in his complaint application has stated that he is a resident of Bolangir and that he approached R1 for the release of a gas connection for his domestic use. R1 refused to accept his application for registration for a new gas connection stating that there were many people in the waiting list. R1 seems to have pointed out that the complainant did not have a ration card.
3. According to the investigation report of the DG, R1 had no business to refuse registration for booking the gas connection and that even without ration card it was not difficult for R1 to verify the complainant's address. The DG has, therefore, recommended that an enquiry may be instituted against R1 for its refusal to register the booking for gas connection which constitutes both an unfair and a restrictive trade practice attracting Sections 36A(1)(ii), (iv) and (vi) and Section 2(o)(ii) of the Act. R2 and R3 who are required to exercise proper control and supervision over their authorised distributor namely R1 in the matter of sale and distribution of gas are also guilty of the aforesaid unfair and restrictive trade practices.
4. The NOE was issued on the basis of the DG's investigation report.
5. On the NOE being communicated to the respondents they furnished their relies. They are summarised herein below :
1. The complainant has an LPG connection which he has borrowed from one his friends. It is unauthorised.
2. The complainant is not residing at Malpada within the jurisdiction of the dealership of R1. On the other hand, he is working at Losingha, about 20 kms. from Bolangir outside the Municipal limits of Bolangir. The Councillor, Ward No. 1 of Malpada has certified that the complainant is not staying at Malpada.
3. According to the guidelines of R2 and R3, R1 has to check the proof of residence of the complainant for gas connection before releasing the same.
4. R1 could not register the complainant's booking as he is not a resident of Malpada and as he has given wrong facts.
Reply of R2 and R3
1. Every dealer like R1 has to check some proof of residence of every applicant who makes a booking for gas connection. The proof has to be either the ration card or some other document.
2. The complainant is not residing at Malpada but working in Losingha about 20 kms. from Bolangir.
3. The complainant has given wrong facts and approached the Commission with unclean hands.
After the pleadings were completed, the following issues were framed :
1. Whether the respondents are or have been indulging in the restrictive/unfair trade practices as stated in the NOE ?
2. If reply to the issue No. 1 is in affirmative, whether the restrictive/ unfair trade practices are prejudicial to public interest ?
6. The DG, as the Prosecuting Officer, had desired to adduce the oral evidence of Shri R.K. Routray, the complainant, but he could not produce the witness. None of the respondents produced any witness and hence the case was posted for final arguments by consent on 20th January, 1998. I gave a hearing to Shri B.K. Rath, proprietor of R1 and Mr. B.R. Vig, Advocate for R2 and R3 and Mr. S. Gupta, Attorney for the DG.
7. The charge is that R1 refused to register the booking of Shri B.K. Rautrary, the complainant for gas connection. All the three respondents have categorically stated in their replies that the complainant is not a resident of Malpada. There was, therefore, no obligation on the part of R1 to register the complainant's booking as the latter's residence Losingha is outside the jurisdiction of R1’s dealership. Furthermore, R1 was right in insisting on some proof of residence. When he asked for the ration card, the complainant seems to have stated that he did not possess one. The argument advanced by Mr. S. Gupta, Attorney for the DG is correct that R1 could have asked for some other proof of residence other than the ration card. But this position is purely academic
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now, as the complainant is not even a resident in the area under the dealership of R1. The charge in the NOE, therefore, fails. The NOE shall stand discharged. The complainant shall pay cost of Rs. 500/- to R1 and a similar cost of Rs. 500/- to R2 and R3 (together) for having made a false complaint. The DG shall pursue this matter of cost with the complainant. All the three respondents are also at liberty to pursue the matter of cost with the complainant. A copy of this order shall be sent to the complainant through the DG. NOE discharged.