Team, 15 March 2005
New Delhi

On a day when the information and broadcasting minister was dwelling on the need to set up a regulatory body for the broadcast sector yesterday, experts felt that India needs to find the best talent to head the proposed Competition Commission and various regulatory agencies.

The reason for this, some Members of Parliament said at a seminar organised by consumer body CUTS, was the country has been “bogged down” with a petty issue of whether such bodies should be headed by retired persons from the judiciary or bureaucracy.

The seminar, attended by MPs and former central ministers like Yashwant Sinha, Dinesh Trivedi and Suresh Prabhu, was organised to discuss and debate the findings of a report recently brought out by CUTS titled `Towards a Functional Competition Policy.’ The report identifies various competition abuses that undermine the economy, including those affecting the broadcast sector.

Initiating the discussion with reference to the current stalemate relating to the Competition Act, former finance minister Yashwant Sinha said it was a pity that such an important legislation has run into difficulties because of the petty issue as to who should head the proposed Commission.

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 specialized 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,” he added.

The Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) in a report released some time back while welcoming a competition law passed in 2002, which created the watchdog, had said it would be ineffective unless it was independent of government and endowed with the legal power to break up cartels.

In India, the report said, multimillion dollar industries such as steel, cable television, transportation, agriculture and drug retail remain insulated from competition and set prices above market

Taking the discussion further, Prabhu mentioned that the regulators were not born, and there is a need to develop appropriate mechanisms to ensure that strong regulators exist.

Trivedi warned that in the process of reforms, the country might convert public monopoly into private monopolies, leading to a worse situation. He emphasised that regulators and government policies should ensure appropriate level playing field for all.