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NEW DELHI : The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is set to be more agile in deciding cases of anti-competitive behaviour by businesses, with the government planning to give more leeway to the watchdog in the efficient distribution of work as part of proposed amendments to the two-decade-old law.

The Competition (Amendment) Bill, 2022, cleared by the Union cabinet and scheduled to be introduced in Parliament in the monsoon session, proposes to let single members of the watchdog decide on cases rather than a group of three members jointly taking the call, a person familiar with the discussions said.

The current law says there should be a minimum of three members deciding on a case, and the majority decision among them will prevail. 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 competition regulation maturing and businesses actively reaching out to the regulator for remedies.

Right in the beginning of the Competition Act coming into execution in 2009, it was being realised that the system of all decision making by a collegium—all members meeting together for all the decisions—was affecting the speed of decision making adversely without necessarily any commensurate benefit on the qualities of the decisions, said K.K. Sharma, senior partner at Singhania and Co. LLP. who had previously served as the director general and head of antitrust and combinations divisions at the CCI.

Sharma said the idea of making benches to speed up the process was explored but it was dropped. "Therefore, it was a long overdue positive way forward and is welcome," said Sharma, who had earlier founded KK Sharma Law Offices.

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.

There, however, is some divergence of views on the subject. Pallavi Shroff, managing partner at law firm Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, said, “Each member brings a different perspective in their areas of expertise whether it is business, economics or judicial. Having multiple members is very critical. In high courts, there are single judge benches, but they have judicial training. That may not be the ideal approach in a regulator."

The regulator has been active in taking corrective action against the anti-competitive market behaviour of businesses. In the last five years, it has imposed a penalty of over 4,300 crore on over 240 companies and trade associations, according to 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.

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