As many as 58 stakeholders including civil society groups, tech experts, and academics on Monday sent a letter to the secretary of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) seeking an open consultation on the Digital Competition Bill, as the draft legislation is reportedly in its final stages.
The letter expressed concerns that the current discussions for drafting the upcoming law that would regulate anti-competitive practices in the digital space were informed by only a few stakeholders. According to media reports, the inter-ministerial Committee on Digital Competition Law (CDCL) is close to finalising its report and is likely to submit it by the first week of July.
“We are concerned that the proposed Digital Competition Act would impact a wide range of subjects, such as digital inclusivity, user experience, data protection and security, foreign investment, cost of doing digital business for MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), indirect impact on the cost for consumers, etc.,” reads the letter addressed to Manoj Govil, secretary of MCA.
The letter also requested the ministry to publish comments submitted during the public consultation on the draft Bill and provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to submit counter-comments, similar to other government consultations on policies of public interest.
The letter is endorsed by civil society groups CCAOI, Internet Society India, and CUTS, as well as technical communities such as DeepStrat, India Internet Foundation, and Indian Network Operators Group.
“Since the internet and digital are cross-cutting, there has to be open consultation from people, so that there is a nuanced Bill coming up. There is a concern that the Digital Competition Act gets heavily tilted towards big tech. However, when regulations are made they are not made only for big tech,” said Amrita Choudhury, director of CCAOI.
A parliamentary committee’s report last year underlined the need for ex-ante regulations — cautionary rules based on anticipated changes — for big tech companies like Google, Apple, Meta, and Amazon. The House panel said the government must frame a definition for Systemically Important Digital Intermediaries (SIDIs) with high revenues, market capitalisation, and the number of active users.
In February, the MCA formed a 16-member panel to evaluate the proposal and prepare a draft for a Digital Competition Bill. However, it has been facing criticism for including only government officials and senior lawyers — many of whom represent big tech companies — apart from a few industry bodies.
Amol Kulkarni, director (of research) at CUTS International, said: “Civil society, technical organisations, academia and even individual users bring the user interests from the grassroots. For any nuanced regulation, the voice of end users and their interests need to be considered; else regulations run the risk of disproportionately favouring government or business.”
“The current CDCL comprises representatives from the government including Competition Commission of India and Niti Ayog, industry associations, law firms, and one from academia. There are no civil society organisations in the committee. Submissions from select external stakeholders have probably been invited. That is why we are requesting an open transparent consultative process so that the Indian community can contribute to the discussion,” he added. Business Standard