March 14, 2005, New Delhi, Press Release

India needs to find the best talent to head the Competition Commission and various economic regulatory agencies. The country has been bogged down with the petty issue of whether such bodies should be headed by retirees from the judiciary or bureaucracy. Instead, we need to hunt the best talent to spearhead the competition agenda in the country. These sentiments were expressed by various Members of Parliaments, including Yashwant Sinha, Dinesh Trivedi, Suresh Prabhu at a Seminar organised by CUTS International.

The seminar was organised by CUTS International & India Habitat Centre, to discuss and debate the findings of the report recently brought out by CUTS on, “Towards a Functional Competition Policy”. The report identifies various competition abuses that undermine the economy.

Initiating the discussion with reference to the current stalemate relating to the Competition Act, Yashwant Sinha, former Finance Minister and Rajya Sabha MP said, that it is a pity that such an important legislation has run into difficulties because of the petty issue of who should head the commission. The Competition Act 2002 could be the initial step towards developing a healthy competition regime in India. Deficienies in the Act, could be removed by step-by-step amendments rather than blocking its implementation altogether. Similar sentiments were expressed by Suresh Prabhu and Dinesh Trivedi.

Taking the discussion further, Suresh Prabhu mentioned that the regulators are not born, and we need to develop appropriate mechanisms to ensure that we require strong regulators – those who are trained, mentally prepared, and independent. The regulators perform different functions that transcends the role of judiciary, executive and legislature. Consequently, all these arms of state may tend to feel that regulators are encroaching upon their territory, leading to conflicts.

Mr Sinha further added that the country definitely needs a National Competition Policy to ensure a competition assessment of all government policies. Over the years, we have established several specialised regulatory agencies for various sectors. However, the issue of ensuring accountability of these agencies has not been addressed. There is need to establish a mechanism for effective Parliamentary oversight of all the regulatory agencies. This also requires the need to develop an appropriate methodology to evaluate their performance.

In the context of competition abuses that exist at the local level, Mr Sinha expressed doubts about the ability of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to deal with such issues.

Dinesh Trivedi warned that in the process of reforms, we might convert public monopoly into private monopolies, leading to a worse situation. There is some accountability for the public monopolies, as they are accountable to the Parliament. However, private monopolies, without appropriate regulatory framework can be dangerous. He emphasised that regulators and the government policies should ensure appropriate level playing field.