(1.) MESSRS. Sivakasi Chamber of Match Industries, the complainant in the present enquiry, filed an application dated January 12, 1976, praying that the respondent be ordered to discontinue and not to repeat the restrictive trade practices of manipulating prices in a way that these are likely to have the effect of preventing, restricting or distorting competition, by underselling their matches in certain areas, so as to drive out competition, pending hearing and final disposal of the notice of enquiry in the Restrictive Trade Practices Enquiry No. 3 of 1973. It enclosed along with the application three photostat copies of three vouchers, viz., one cash memo issued by Bandukwala Trading Company, Sholapur, dated December 19, 1975, another cash memo issued by Pahlomal Bharumal, Gondia, dated December 31, 1975, and a sale memo issued by Pahlomal Bharumal, Gondia, dated December 20, 1975.
(2.) It is alleged in the application that the members of the Sivakasi Chamber of Match Industries have been suffering on account of the continuous practices of the respondent of underselling their products in selected areas so as to drive competitors out of business wherever the respondent believed they were becoming strong. The following table giving the particulars from the vouchers enclosed is given in the application in support of the allegation :
It is pointed out that while the official price of matches as sold by WIMCO to wholesalers is Rs. 70 per 5 gross the wholesalers were entitled to certain free gifts which in effect reduced the price to the wholesalers. It is further contended that in view of the fact that it had taken a long time for the processing of the complaints by the Sivakasi Chamber of Match Industries it was essential that an interim order for relief should be granted to them.
(3.) THE respondent by its reply dated February 19, 1976, contended that the Commission did not have the jurisdiction to try or entertain the application or to grant interim injunction as prayed for or otherwise and that the application was outside the ambit of the enquiry and was not maintainable. It was also contended that the application should not be granted on account of laches and that it was in fact an abuse of the process of the Commission. It was pointed out that the notice of the enquiry was issued as early as October 1, 1973, that the reply was filed by the respondent on March 21, 1974, that the director had moved an application for further directions on September 16, 1974, that by an order dated October 28, 1974, the Commission was pleased to give the directions, and that the present application was Sled as late as January 12, 1976, i.e., more than two years from the date the respondent was served with a notice of enquiry and more than a year after the Commission had given certain directions. It was also contended that the complainant had no locus standi to make the application, that the application was in fact barred by the law of limitation, that the allegations made in the application were totally vague and without any material particulars and that the allegations were made without any affidavit in support, that the complainant had deliberately suppressed the facts about the various brands of match boxes manufactured by competitors of WIMCO sold in the very markets and that the very relief claimed by the complainant would distort competition in the market and will by itself be a restrictive trade practice. It was pointed out that the respondent was not underselling in any selected area or otherwise and that the members of the complainant-association had not been suffering and that the respondent was not trying to drive out competition as alleged. It was submitted that in fact the respondent's share had declined in the market year by year, that the number of competitors in the market had increased and the competitors had no disadvantages as alleged or otherwise, that there was expansion of competition in general, that there was increase in the number of members of the complainant-association in particular, that there were new entrants in the business and that the total sales of the respondent had declined both in aggregate and percentage. It was also pointed out that the table given in the application was misleading, that the annexures to the application were not bills of the respondent, and that the complainant should be put to strict proof of the vouchers. It was also pointed out that, in fact, the various competitors including the members of the complainant-association gave discounts either in the shape of coupons which are encashable or otherwise, that the said discounts were not uniform and varied from period to period, market to market and party to party even in the same market, and that, in fact, the selling rate of competitors would vary from Rs. 58 to Rs. 69 per 5 gross container after taking into account the various discounts given by the competitors. Reference was made to manufacturers of Chavi matches, Kuil brand matches and " No. 27 " brand matches and it was contended that they enclosed coupons in their 5 gross containers ranging up to 25 per container of 5 gross which sells between Rs. 58 to Rs. 69 per container.;