India’s global prominence is on the rise, but its commitment to nurturing regulatory bodies for its growing economy is questionable. The Competition Commission of India (CCI), designed to ensure fair competition, has suffered due to delayed appointments, potentially undermining its crucial role.
The CCI’s vacancies have been a persistent issue, contrasting with the swift appointments in other regulatory bodies. The delays in filling up key posts at CCI has raised doubts as to whether the Centre was overlooking the competition watchdog and treating it less favourably compared to other regulators, similar to how a stepchild might feel in a blended family. Certainly, the alacrity shown in filling vacancies at the top in regulatory bodies such as the RBI and SEBI seems to be missing here.
The absence of a full commission was particularly evident after the departure of Ashok Kumar Gupta as chairperson last October. The situation improved briefly with the appointment of Ravneet Kaur as chairperson in May, but another member’s retirement in August once again left the CCI without quorum. Now, with the superannuation of Sangeeta Verma, the CCI has become a single-member body, far from its legally intended structure of one chairperson and six members.
The root of the quorum problem dates back to 2018 when the Union Cabinet decided to “right-size” the CCI, reducing it from seven members to four as part of a ‘Minimum Government - Maximum Governance’ initiative. In this truncated setup, the CCI has struggled to maintain quorum, relying on the “doctrine of necessity” to approve mergers and acquisitions. The validity of the CCI approvals can be challenged in courts if orders lack quorum.
The government must prioritise regulatory appointments, especially for CCI members. With quorum issues hindering the CCI’s functioning, India’s growth story is at risk of becoming a case of ‘Operation Successful, Patient Dead’. This is no way to go, if India aspires to be a developed economy by 2047