India should also consider direct oversight by legislature, quite like Senate hearings in US

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Published: August 1, 2020 5:50 AM

Given tech companies are also large donors to the political parties in the US, the consequence of being found guilty of antitrust behaviour may not eventually amount to more than a mere slap on the wrist, but the man on the street will surely be watching.

The Senate committee members, over the last two days, have asked Facebook to explain its Instagram acquisition. The Senate committee members, over the last two days, have asked Facebook to explain its Instagram acquisition.

What the outcome of the Senate committee hearings in the US involving the tech-titans, Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, will be, is hard to foretell—the companies have been asked to depose on alleged anti-trust practices by them. But, it can be said with certainty that such hearings create a pressure on companies to act within the bounds of the law and also serve to inform the largely unaware public—through the media attention these generate—on any kind of corporate malpractice, real or alleged. The Senate committee members, over the last two days, have asked Facebook to explain its Instagram acquisition. Similarly, they have asked Apple, Google, and Amazon to explain “monopolistic practices”. The tech titans were mostly evasive and evoked China fears, but the committee did manage to put them under the spotlight on many occasions. Given tech companies are also large donors to the political parties in the US, the consequence of being found guilty of antitrust behaviour may not eventually amount to more than a mere slap on the wrist, but the man on the street will surely be watching.

While parliamentary committees do have the power to summon business and corporate leaders to testify in matters of suspected corporate infractions, this has very rarely been invoked. Direct oversight of affairs sure is a double-edged sword, but if it remains sheathed, the good rusts with the bad. While part of this is done through expert-committee, court-appointed committee and even regulatory body hearings, lawmakers having public hearings will be a welcome change. It will help keep up the pressure for fair conduct on corporate India and its leadership.

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