Competition Bill likely to be passed in current session

Financial Express, March 22, 2023

Lok Sabha member and standing committee on finance chairman Jayant Sinha on Tuesday said the Digital Competition Bill he proposes to introduce as a private member’s bill would be a “helpful input” to the proposed legislation on digital competition regulation.

“The idea of this private member’s bill was always just to provide helpful input to the government. Because we have done a very elaborate and thorough examination of digital competition bills around the world… we thought it would be helpful to actually package it all together, and put together a private member’s bill that could then be an input for the government’s deliberation,” he said on the sidelines of the International Conference on Competition and Big Tech.

Sinha expressed confidence that the Competition Amendment Bill will be passed in the ongoing Budget session of Parliament despite the proceedings being disrupted, The standing committee on finance had in December submitted its report on anti-competitive practices by Big Tech and prescribed a number of measures including ex-ante evaluation of their activities, identifying systemically important digital intermediaries and also a separate Digital Competition Bill.

The ministry of corporate affairs has also set up an expert panel to look into the proposed digital competition bill and has had several discussions with stakeholders. It is expected to present its report in a three month period.
Sinha’s private member’s bill has not been introduced in Parliament as of now due to the House proceedings getting disrupted on an almost daily basis. It should be seen as the first draft of what the bill should be, he said.

The BJP MP was also optimistic that the Competition Amendment Bill would be passed by the Parliament in the ongoing session despite the disruptions. “We are very hopeful that it will get passed in this session itself. We’ll see what happens… the Appropriation Bill and the Finance Bill will have to be passed for the government to continue to function. So that will obviously happen. We are hopeful that we get to some resolution in Parliament and we pass the Competition Amendment Bill. It’s absolutely ready to pass,” he said.

The bill, which seeks to amend the Competition Act and includes provisions to regulate mergers and transactions based on their value and also reduces timelines for approvals, has already been approved by the Union Cabinet after the MCA revised it and incorporated some of the recommendations of the standing committee on finance.

Meanwhile, addressing the conference, which was organised by BRICS Competition Law and Policy Centre, CUTS International, and CUTS Institute for Regulation & Competition, highlighted the large size and scale of India’s digital economy, which will be a trillion dollar digital economy, and said the digital competition bill will establish a very comprehensive framework for the digital markets. “As the economy grows, the manner in which we regulate and evaluate competition and address competitive gaps will be very important for the world also, especially with regard to the digital economy,” he said.

Sinha also stressed that regulators and policymakers have to become very sophisticated to prevent the interlocking of markets and bundling and tying to prevent a situation where there is a non-level playing field and as a result the same few players win every single market by tipping these markets.

Responding to a question, he also underlined that it is not too early for ex-ante regulation of Big Tech as India’s digital markets have matured and it can be argued that they have tipped already. For instance in terms of search, India is the number one market in the world, he pointed out.

Jyoti Jindgar Bhanot, Secretary (I/C), Competition Commission of India also stressed that that vigorous enforcement of the Competition Act 2002 remains a priority of the Commission. “The CCI is cognisant of the new challenges in the digital economy and is carefully studying the market issues,” she said, adding that CCI is also in the process of establishing and operationalising an in house digital markets data unit that would help in the regulation of digital markets.

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