One statistical detail captures the growth pangs of India’s anti-trust watchdog perfectly. In the nearly seven years of its functioning, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has ordered penalties totalling about Rs 14,000 crore. Of that just Rs 82 crore have been actually paid.
The CCI is the youngest and the only cross-sector regulator in India. Tasked with ensuring free play in markets, it has cracked down on cartelisation, abuse of market power and monopolistic mergers and acquisitions, even by mighty private firms and state-owned behemoths.
But the legal integrity of its orders has been frequently questioned, a charge that leads to intense debate about the exact nature and objective of the quasi-judicial regulator. The Competition Appellate Tribunal (Compat) has struck down several CCI orders — many for violating the principle of natural justice that entitles everyone a fair hearing before law — even though the final test in the Supreme Court is still pending.
“CCI has made several visible contributions to the economy. From the way medicines are sold to the way fuel is distributed in India — the impact is being felt,” says Suhail Nathani, co-founding partner of law firm Economic Law Practice (ELP).
Much of that credit goes to its genial chairman, Ashok Chawla, a career bureaucrat who would hang up his boots on January 7. Chawla has had a clear run of over four years while his predecessor and first chairman Dhanendra Kumar was in the seat for just about two. “Chawla brought with him a world of experience, especially from the financial sector. His tenure has brought CCI to a global stage,” says Nathani.