A little over a month after its constitution, the Corporate Affairs Ministry (MCA) appointed 10-member panel to frame a draft Digital Competition Bill has completed its stakeholders and public consultations. The panel, which has been mandated to submit its report by May 2023, will this week take up the task of framing a draft of the Digital Competition Bill, sources said.

On Saturday, top Big Techs including Google, Meta, Uber and Amazon made elaborate presentations to the MCA-appointed Committee on Digital Competition Law on how the proposed Digital Competition Act (DCA) should be fashioned. 

Flipkart, Zomato, Uber and National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) were among the others who made submissions to the Panel on Saturday, sources said. 

After hours of presentations by the Big Tech representatives, it is now clear that they are not on the same page as that of startups as regards introduction of ex-ante measures, sources said. While most of the Big Tech is not in favour of ex-ante measures, the startups want the government to quickly introduce them in the statute book to safeguard the interests of the domestic start-up ecosystem, they added.

As part of its consultations with stakeholders, the Centre appointed panel had on March 4 and 11 heard the views of representatives of digital news publishers, digital Startups besides the Big Techs. All of them were invited as “ special invitees” to the Panel.

The government as part of vision for Digital India expects the digital economy of the country to touch $1-trillion by 2025-26.

Experts also stressed the need to ensure that ex-ante frameworks do not overlap or conflict with other areas of policy, for instance, the proposed Digital India Act and the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022. 

To avoid potential conflicts, extensive inter-ministerial discussions may be undertaken to ensure consensus on the manner of regulating competition concerns in digital markets, they suggested. 

The significance of achieving a balance between regulating anti-competitive conduct in digital markets and preventing overregulation and harm to innovation and consumer interests was also emphasised.

The 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 had been among other things tasked to prepare a draft Digital Competition Act.

The Panel has been asked to examine the need for an ex ante regulatory mechanism for digital markets through separate legislation.

The Standing Committee on Finance had in its 53rd report titled ‘Anti- competitive practices by big tech companies’ suggested an ex-ante framework to regulate ‘Systemically Important Digital Intermediaries’ (SIDIs) under a new Digital Competition Act.

This signals a new era of ex-ante frameworks, meant to cover only SIDIs in digital markets, marking a significant exit from the existing sector-agnostic framework which covers all market players, said competition law experts.

OECD Competition Committee Chairman Frederic Jenny has underscored the need for an overarching global architecture of cooperation among competition authorities for effective regulation of the globalised digital markets.  The existing co-operation system among competition authorities are not particularly useful in the digital world, according to Jenny.

Competition Bill

Meanwhile, the Centre is expected to this week bring amendments to the Competition (amendment) Bill 2022 that was introduced on August 5 last year.

The Bill was referred to Standing Committee on Finance, which had submitted its report in December 2022.

The Centre has now rejected most of the recommendation made by the House Panel and had circulated official amendments on February 7, which now form part of the already introduced Bill. 

The Bill is likely to be listed for passage in the Lok Sabha this week when Parliament resumes on March 13 after recess, sources close to the development said.

It maybe recalled that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance had in December last year submitted the report on the Competition (amendment) Bill. 

The Union Cabinet had on January 24 this year approved the proposal mooted by MCA to  move official amendments in light of certain recommendations made by the House Panel.