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Digital competition law panel to hold first meeting on Feb 22

The noose tightens around Big Tech with a Centre-appointed 10-member panel set to this Wednesday (February 22) to begin deliberations on the contours of a new Digital Competition Act.

Top representatives of six ministries/departments will participate in the first meeting of this panel with NITI Aayog and the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) expected to make detailed presentations, sources familiar with the developments said.

The MCA-appointed panel is showing urgency with the committee having been tasked to submit a report within three months, they added.

The Corporate Affairs Ministry (MCA) had on February 6 constituted a 10-member inter-ministerial committee to examine the need for a separate law on competition in digital markets. The panel has been among other things tasked to prepare a draft Digital Competition Act.

Terms of reference
The panel’s terms of reference include a review as to whether existing provisions of the Competition Act 2002 and the rules and regulations framed thereunder are sufficient to deal with the challenges that have emerged from the digital economy and to examine the need for an ex-ante regulatory mechanism for digital markets through separate legislation.

The panel is headed by MCA Secretary Manoj Govil and comprises Sangeeta Verma, Chairperson, Competition Commission of India (CCI); Saurabh Srivastava, Chairman, Indian Angel Network and Co-founder, NASSCOM; Aditya Bhattacharya, Professor of Economics (retd) from Delhi School of Economics; and five personnel from leading law firms (Pallavi Shardul Shroff from Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co; Haigreeve Khaitan from Khaitan & co; Anand S Pathak, P&A Law Offices; Harsha Vardhana Singh, IKDHVAJ Advisers LLP and Rahul Rai, Axiom5 Law Chamber).

The panel also includes six invitees — nominees from NITI Aayog, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Economic Affairs, the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEiTY).

News publishers irked
Already news publishing industry is irked over the lack of representation in the 10-member Committee recently formed by the MCA for drafting a Digital Competition Act.

What has miffed the digital news publishers, even more, is that the panel that has been constituted is dominated by top corporate law firms that have been representing and advising big tech companies in various inquiries initiated by the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), News Broadcasters & Digital Association, and the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) have been fighting legal battles against Big Tech companies before competition watchdog to seek part of advertising revenues generated by gatekeeper platforms through the scraping of the content generated by reporters on the ground.

Start-ups are also concerned that they are not meaningfully represented in the Panel. Also, economy watchers feel it would be interesting to see if the Panel would be able to look at the issues objectively considering that an overwhelming number of members are Big Tech-representing top-notch law firms.

Need for a fair digital ecosystem
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, headed by BJP MP Jayant Sinha, had recommended in its recent report on “Anti-Competitive Practices by Big Tech” (tabled in December 2022) that a Digital Competition Act is needed to ensure a fair, transparent, and contestable digital ecosystem.

The Standing Committee recommended that India identify the small number of leading players and market winners that can negatively influence competitive conduct in the digital ecosystem as “systemically important digital intermediaries (SIDI)“ and adopt definitions to ex-ante regulate their behaviour.

The competitive behaviour needs to be evaluated ex-ante before markets end up monopolised instead of the ex-post evaluation being carried out at present, the Standing Committee recommended in December last year. The Hindu BusinessLine

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