As the experts’ panel appointed by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs starts deliberations on the contours of the proposed Digital Competition Law, the Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF), a thinktank for digital start-ups, has called for expansion of the panel so as to include representation of domestic start-ups.

“A larger representation of Indian start-ups would help them voice concerns being faced by the local start-up community,” an ADIF spokesperson said when asked if start-ups enjoyed a meaningful representation in the 10-member committee set up by MCA to prepare a draft of the Digital Competition Act.

The MCA should look to expand the committee with more representation from the Indian start-up ecosystem, which will make the inputs more inclusive, the ADIF spokesperson added.

Indian start-ups are both important stakeholders and the impacted parties, due to the abusive dominance of certain big tech firms, according to ADIF.

“In ADIF’s view, the government may consider expanding the committee, with more representation from Indian start-up focused policy thinktanks as well as renowned Indian business stalwarts, so as to help Indian technology start-ups become self-reliant and self-sustainable,” the spokesperson added.

While ADIF is considering submitting its inputs to the committee on its own, .it has not been called by the committee to submit the inputs.

The Centre appointed 10-member panel is expected to meet on Wednesday to begin deliberations on the contours of a new Digital Competition Act. Top representatives of six ministries/ departments will participate in the first meeting with the NITI Aayog and the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT).

The panel has been tasked to submit a report within three months.

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 has, among other things, been tasked to prepare a draft Digital Competition Act.

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 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, headed by MCA Secretary Manoj Govil, 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), 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 includes six invitees — nominees from the 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).

Publishing industry unhappy

The news publishing industry is also irked over the lack of representation in the 10-member committee. 

What has miffed the digital news publishers even more is that the panel 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).

The 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 the competition watchdog to seek part of the advertising revenues generated by gatekeeper platforms through scraping of content generated by reporters on the ground.