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Meeting with Big Tech over, drafting of digital competition law by next week

The corporate affairs ministry has concluded the stakeholder discussions on the digital competition law with final presentations from big tech companies such as Amazon, Uber, Flipkart, Meta and Google, according to government sources.

The committee led by Manoj Govil, secretary, corporate affairs ministry, is expected to meet next week to dwell on the drafting of the law. One of the things being discussed is the need for ex-ante regulations for big tech.

In a marathon meeting that lasted all of Saturday, the government had also invited the Alliance of Digital India Foundation and Digital News Publishers Association to join the discussions.

Sources say the inclusion of both parties was a balancing act on part of the government which had included two law firms representing Google in cases before the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal in its panel as invitees.

The move was criticised by the startups, digital news publishers who sought representation on the inter-ministerial panel.

The government also invited the National Restaurant Association of India to take part in the meeting held on Saturday.

Domestic startups and news publishers had made presentations sharing their views on the need for a digital competition law on March 4.

A parliamentary panel on finance, in its report tabled in December 2022, had suggested the need to have a digital competition law. The house panel had underlined the need for ex-ante (cautionary) regulations for big tech.

The first meeting of the inter-ministerial panel formed for framing the law was held on February 22. The committee includes the chairperson of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and Saurabh Srivastava, chairman, Indian Angel Network and co-founder of industry body Nasscom, among others.

Among the law firms on the panel are Haigreve Khaitan of Khaitan & Co, Pallavi Shardul Shroff of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, Anand Pathak, P&A Law Offices, Rahul Rai, Axiom5 Law Chamber.

The discussion around the digital competition law comes amid a global scrutiny of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and others for allegedly abusing their market position using chunks of user data. Earlier this year, the CCI slapped Google with penalties of Rs 936.44 crore and Rs 1,337.76 crore in two separate cases.

Amol Kulkarni, director (Research) at CUTS International, a public advocacy group, said the committee drafting the bill should consider Indian realities before taking into account any decision with respect to the Digital Competition Bill. The non-profit organisation will submit its feedback to the corporate affairs ministry.

“We have different realities, different state capacities, and there are other solutions which are being experimented with to address the problem of limited competition and a huge digital divide. All of this needs to be considered before taking a call on whether a separate digital law with stringent ex-ante regulations is required or we can have some sort of a self-regulation or co-regulation approach,” he said.

Kulkarni said there is a need to prevent barriers to competition across the sectors and empower consumers to play a more vigilant role in the economy by enhancing grievance redress. Business Standard

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