Panel on cards to ensure no turf war among CCI, other regulators

The Centre is planning to set up a separate forum of regulators to ensure that there is no turf war between various regulators and the Competition Commission of India (CCI). 

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irdai) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) will be part of this forum, which will resolve disputes with the CCI. 

A senior official said, “These regulators can meet and address competition-related issues through dialogue and discussions. This issue of overlap between sectoral regulators and the fair trade regulator has been going on for a long time. There have been cases where PNGRB, Trai and CERC have been at loggerheads with the CCI.” 

A recent instance of the CCI’s jurisdiction being questioned is that of the three telecom companies Bharti-Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular. The CCI alleged that these firms had formed a cartel. The matter went to the Supreme Court, which held that the CCI should wait for the telecom regulator to complete its investigation. 

In one instance, Reliance Industries alleged that its rivals Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) formed a cartel for the supply of aviation fuel to Air India. 

However, during the course of the investigation by the CCI, IOCL, BPCL and HPCL filed a suit in the Delhi High Court challenging the CCI’s jurisdiction claiming that the matter fell under the jurisdiction of the PNGRB, the sector’s regulator. Experts suggest that while sectoral regulators act before problems occur, the competition law addresses anti-competitive activity after it occurs. The CCI investigates complaints it receives or can take up cases suo moto if it feels there is anti-competition activity. 

The government is planning major amendments to the Competition Act, which entails changing the definition of “relevant market” and altering the threshold for mergers and acquisitions. The committee set up will look into changes needed in the Act. The panel is also deliberating whether there is a need to have a separate division in the commission to examine mergers and a separate one to examine anti-trust cases. 

The government has been planning to expand the role of the CCI by making it a body that will engage with the Centre and states in formulating policies and revising them so that competition is not affected.

The government also wants the CCI to be a think-tank that will analyse policy frameworks rather than only investigate cases and impose fines on those who violate the Competition Law.

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