Competition Commission of India (CCI) is set to be more agile in adjudicating cases of anti-competitive behaviour by businesses with the government proposing to give more leeway to the watchdog in efficient distribution of work as part of proposed amendments to the two-decade old law.
Competition (Amendment) Bill, 2022, cleared by the union cabinet and is scheduled to be introduced in the Parliament in the monsoon session, proposes to let single members of the watchdog to decide on cases rather than a group of three members together taking a call on cases, said a person familiar with the discussions in government.
The present law says that decisions are to be to be taken at the watchdog’s meetings by a majority of three members. The flexibility of decision making by single members is likely to be exercised only in the case of adjudication and not in the case of other key functions of the regulator.
“This will enable quicker disposal of cases. In case of grievances, parties anyway have platforms like the Competition Appellate Tribunal and the Supreme Court to approach,” said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity. A second person, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the proposal was contemplated in the wake of increased workload on the Commission with the competition regulation maturing and businesses actively reaching out to the regulator seeking remedies.
In the three years up to FY21, the regulator had to handle around 245 cases a year on an average including the ones carried over from the previous years and it was able to settle over 80 cases a year on an average, as per official data. An email sent to the spokesperson for the corporate affairs ministry on Saturday remained unanswered at the time of publishing.
The regulator has been active in taking corrective action in the anti-competitive market behaviour of businesses and have in the last five years imposed penalty on companies and trade associations of over ₹4,300 crore on over 240 entities, as per data available from the government. These include automobile makers and dealers, airlines, chemists’ associations and cement and telecom companies. The Bill also seeks to clarify certain provisions based on the experience so far and the judicial pronouncements in cases that have landed up in courts.
Curtailing litigation is one of the goals of the Bill, which seek to incorporate the spirit of ease of doing business and global best practices into the Competition Act. Mint reported on 20 July that businesses accused of anti-competitive practices, including abuse of their dominant positions, will be able to settle cases by negotiating with the regulator if a proposal in the Bill get accepted.
The Bill also seeks to make competition regulation more efficient and in tune with the changes in the economy which has seen an exponential growth in technology driven services over the last two decades. Besides investigation and imposing penalties, CCI has also been conducting market studies to shine light on some of the anti-competitive practices so that businesses can take corrective steps on their own.