The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has raided offices of several steel companies across the country for alleged price collusion for its products used in the construction industry. 

The raided companies include West Bengal-based Shyam Steel and Rungta Mines, a Jharkhand-based entity involved in construction material (including TMT bars) making.

Sources said that officers from the Directorate General (Investigations), the investigative arm of CCI, conducted the dawn raids, went along with forensic experts to these steel firms and cloned the systems’ hard disk, sources said.

The DG also recorded the statements of the representatives of the companies, they added.

Searches were carried out on Friday and Saturday in 10-odd offices in West Bengal, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and New Delhi.  Simply put, a dawn raid refers to surprise search and seizure activities conducted by anti-trust agencies to unearth the evidence to establish anti-competitive practices. As dawn raids are inherently intrusive, they are conducted sparingly.

Earlier, the Madras High Court had, in July last year, directed DG (investigation) at CCI to look at cartelisation charges made by the Coimbatore Corporation Contractor Welfare Association, which had approached the High Court. This association had sought CBI probe into the pricing activities of the steel industry. The DG (investigation) had made larger inroads in the matter, and had issued notices to nine steel companies earlier. 

Rungta Mines website says it is “under maintenance”. The company had recently roped in actors Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt for their TMT-bar TVC. 

Shyam Steel, which claims to be a $30 billion group, operates through its  steel manufacturing plants located in West Bengal. The products are manufactured at its integrated steel plant in Durgapur. 

Meanwhile, Competition Commission of India on Saturday tweeted “Office of Director General, Competition Commission of India conducted a search and seizure operation on various steel companies across India for alleged collusion of price fixation of steel products. The action was initiated on 16.12.2022, covering 9 entities based out of Coimbatore, Erode, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, Punjab and across the country. Further investigations are still in progress”.

Recently the Competition (amendment) Bill 2022 had sought to expand the power of the DG whereby they can even record the statements of the companies’ lawyers. 

The Standing Committee on Finance had red-flagged this provision and recommended in its report that this should not impinge upon client’s attorney privilege under the Indian Evidence Act.