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MCA likely to include tech experts in digital competition law panel

New Delhi, February 12, 2023 

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs is likely to appoint experts from the technology and startup ecosystem to the recently formed committee on digital competition law, a senior official told Business Standard. The 16-member panel currently has government officials and senior lawyers, many of whom represent big tech firms.

An official memorandum detailing the composition of the panel said that the chairperson of the committee-- the MCA secretary--can “co-opt any other person as a member or special invitee as and when required.”

Startups, meanwhile, have been concerned about non-representation on the government panel, which many said was skewed in favour of the big tech firms.

“The government is very vocal about putting controls on the practices of big techs. But forming a committee of a few lawyers who actually represent these companies can muddle up with the whole purpose of the bill. The government must be inclusive while composing the committee, as these deliberations need the voice from the small players of the ecosystem (as well),” an industry executive said.

Clarifying the government's position, however, a senior official said at the time of forming the committee, it wasn't clear who would represent the technology world and that option therefore was kept open. “The government will listen to all parties. There will be more people on this panel from various sectors, but they are yet to be named,” the official added.

A leading think tank for the Indian startup ecosystem said it will write to the ministry on the inclusion of small players in the consultation process.

While startup companies themselves are not likely to be part of the panel, those with understanding of the sector and its challenges would be invited by the MCA to take part in the discussions.

A parliamentary committee’s report had underlined the need for ex-ante regulations for the big tech. They are cautionary and based on anticipated changes or activity. The house panel said the government must frame a definition for Systemically Important Digital Intermediaries (SIDIs) that need tighter regulations. The classification could be based on revenues, market capitalisation, and the number of active users.

Experts agree that the digital space has, for much of the last decade, not been exactly a level playing field, with a few players having a hold over most of the internet traffic. “Many variables come into play while ascertaining dominance in digital markets - targeted advertisements, gateway platforms, and spheres of analytics. A specialised mechanism to ascertain anti-competitive practices in the digital space looks like a good move,” said Siddharth Mody, Senior Partner, Desai & Diwanji.

Among those named as part of the committee are its chairperson (MCA secretary Manoj Govil), Sangeeta Verma, acting chairperson, Competition Commission of India, and Saurabh Srivastava, chairman, Indian Angel Network and co-founder of industry body Nasscom.

Legal representatives on the panel include Haigreve Khaitan of Khaitan & Co, Pallavi Shardul Shroff of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, Anand Pathak, P&A Law Offices, and Rahul Rai, Axiom5 Law Chamber.

Invitees from NITI Aayog, the departments of commerce, economic affairs and consumer affairs, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), and Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) will also be a part of the new committee.

[The Business Standard]

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