The Corporate Affairs Ministry (MCA) appointed a 16-member Committee on Digital Competition Law (CDCL) to meet for the final time in early October to wrap up its work and finalise the draft of the proposed bill on digital competition law.

“One more meeting of the committee is required. It will be the final one and happen most likely in early October. The panel will most likely submit their report before the October end deadline”, official sources said.

This inter-ministerial panel, chaired by MCA Secretary Manoj Govil, was set up on February 6 and tasked with finalising its report and framing a draft for the proposed law in three months.

However, the committee has overshot the initial time allocated, and the panel’s tenure has been extended several times since May 6.

“Discussions of the committee have happened. The draft bill has to be modulated in line with the discussions. Once it is finalised, it will go to the committee once more. The draft bill is still in the draft stage”, sources said.

Indications are that the proposed bill on digital competition law may miss the winter session, given that the panel may end up submitting its report only by the end of October.

“It’s a new law. Only a few jurisdictions have got it, and there should be adequate scrutiny in this respect”, sources added.

Asked if the Panel favours an ex ante approach for the regulation of digital markets, official sources said that it would be known only when the final report is finalised.

The proposed framework was unlikely to be entirely patterned on the Digital Markets Act enacted by the EU, sources added.

“The committee has discussed whether we should be prescriptive or leave it more to the regulatory authority. The members have diversity of views. Finally, it may not be entirely what is prescribed in Europe or patterned on the DMA”, sources said.

This is significant as there has been wide speculation that India’s proposed digital competition law will be based on DMA.

“Some jurisdictions have moved forward. The panel has studied various laws that have been implemented in Australia, Korea, Japan, and the UK. Also, the various laws being proposed, such as those in the US. We have to go by our national interests”, sources said.

CDCL has been tasked with examining the need for an ex-ante regulatory mechanism for digital markets through separate legislation. It has also been tasked with preparing a draft Digital Competition Act.

The Panel will also have to review whether existing provisions in the Competition Act and the Rules and Regulations framed under it are sufficient to deal with the challenges that have emerged from the digital economy.

India is contemplating the enactment of a Digital Competition Act at a time when there is growing concern among policymakers around the world about the power and dominance of tech giants in the digital economy and the need to ensure a level playing field for all players in the market.

Competition law experts are still divided on whether India needs a separate digital competition law or not. Some still contend that it would be premature for India to go in for an ex ante framework through a separate law to prevent the anti-competitive conduct of big tech in digital markets.