By Aditya Kalra
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Dubai's DP World has approached an Indian court to quash an antitrust investigation recently ordered to probe its alleged anti-competitive behaviour at the country's largest container port in Mumbai, a legal document reviewed by Reuters showed.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) last month said it suspected alleged antitrust violations by DP World <DPW.DI> and Denmark's A.P. Moller-Maersk <MAERSKb.CO> at the terminals they operate at state-owned Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT).
The CCI's probe followed a complaint by Singapore's PSA International Pte Ltd, which had alleged that Maersk and DP World businesses created barriers to hinder the growth of PSA's terminal by colluding on certain charges they levy at JNPT, Reuters reported last month. [L4N1XU53W]
In a filing in the High Court in Mumbai last week, the DP World unit Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal said the CCI's decision to order an investigation was "arbitrary" and "capricious".
The filing, dated Dec. 13, has been reviewed by Reuters. It has not been previously reported.
Allowing the CCI's order to stand "would lead to gross discrimination and grave economic harm" on the business, the DP World unit said in its petition, urging the court to quash the CCI's order, put it on hold, or ask the watchdog to withdraw it.
A spokeswoman for DP World in India, Heena Sharma, declined to comment, saying the matter was sub judice. PSA declined to comment.
A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world's biggest container shipping group, did not respond to queries.
The CCI did not respond to Reuters questions.
Handling 66 million tonnes of cargo in the last fiscal year to March, JNPT is critical to India's international trade. The port handles more than half of India’s traffic of shipping containers each year.
Units of Maersk, DP World and PSA operate four of the port’s five terminals, with the fifth owned by the government. The PSA terminal, inaugurated in February, is planned to be the largest, expected to nearly double JNPT’s capacity.
The dispute centers around so-called inter-terminal transfers.
Under the system, freight trains arriving at JNPT typically carry containers destined for several terminals, but stop at just one that handles all the cargo on a given day. Other operators then collect their containers by truck for loading at their own terminals. A similar procedure is followed, in reverse, when imported containers are unloaded.
In June, PSA, which is owned by Singapore government-owned investment fund Temasek Holdings, lodged a complaint with the CCI alleging it was facing discrimination because Maersk and DP World were imposing a higher fee on shipping companies for handling containers that arrived at the PSA terminal.
In its petition, DP World said the matter was a "business" issue and should be looked into by India's Tariff Authority for Major Ports, not the CCI.
Chairman of the Tariff Authority for Major Ports, T. S. Balasubramanian, did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The CCI in its Nov. 9 order, however, had said it did not agree that the matter pertains only to tariff fixation and it was rather a case of "coordinated conduct" which raised "anti-competitive concerns".
A government source told Reuters on Monday that the matter could be looked at by both the Tariff Authority as well as the CCI, and the watchdog was going to defend its decision in court.
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Martin Howell)