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Digital Competition Bill unlikely to be tabled in upcoming parliamentary session

A senior government official has stated that the Centre is unlikely to introduce the much-discussed Digital Competition Bill (DCB) during the upcoming Parliamentary session.

This is because the Corporate Affairs Ministry (MCA) would require more time to process the feedback received on an earlier draft Bill and the report of the Committee on Digital Competition Law (CDCL), official sources said.

Another round of inter-ministerial consultations and public feedback on a new Bill to be prepared by MCA may be required before sending it for Cabinet approval, they added.

“We are not looking at the upcoming session. That is ruled out, as a lot of feedback that has already come in needs to be processed,” the senior official said.

The first session of the 18th Lok Sabha is scheduled to begin on June 24. This session will have two parts: the first part from June 24 to July 7, and the second part likely post-July 17. The full budget for 2024-25 is likely to be presented after July 17.

It may be recalled that MCA, which was the nodal ministry driving the deliberations and had set up a 16-member CDCL, had fixed May 15 as the last date for sending comments on the CDCL and the draft Bill prepared by this committee.

DCB has proposed an ex-ante law for digital markets to regulate enterprises that have a significant presence in India. The ex ante measures in the form of DCB were intended to complement the ex-post framework under the Competition Act 2002.

The MCA is understood to have received mixed views on the CDCL and draft DCB from players in the digital sector.

Big Tech are opposed to the introduction of any ex-ante framework as it could have a potential negative effect on innovation and investments. However, the startup community is largely in favour of DCB as it will create a level playing field for them in the digital ecosystem.

India’s digital economy is expected to touch the $1 trillion mark by 2027-28, according to government estimates.

Also, issues of turf war and departmental overlaps cannot be ruled out with the involvement of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the Ministry Information and Broadcasting, which are looking into various facets of competition issues in the digital markets.

Thursday’s meeting, which was to be chaired by MeitY Secretary, was convened to discuss the representations from industry stakeholders that had raised “serious concerns” regarding the impact of the proposed DCB on data and digital markets.

Besides the European Union, which has enacted Digital Markets Act with an ex-ante approach to regulate large digital players, the UK too has recently enacted ex-ante regulations.

The DCB, modeled after the EU’s Digital Markets Act 2022, aims to impose obligations on big digital firms with a global turnover exceeding $30 billion and at least 10 million local users.

The proposed law seeks to prevent large digital companies from exploiting non-public user data and favoring their services over competitors. Additionally, it aims to remove restrictions on downloading third-party apps.

The ex-ante obligations under DCB are proposed to be applicable only to Systematically Significant Digital Enterprises (SSDE) ( comparable to ‘gatekeepers’ under the EU DMA) in respect of pre-defined Core Digital Services (CDS) offered by these SSDEs in India.

The key obligations proposed under proposed ex-ante framework include “fair and transparent dealings”; Anti-steering; tying and bundling; Self-preferencing; restriction on third party applications and data usage. The Hindu BusinessLine

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