INTERVIEW: Google and Facebook ahoy! India’s Principal Economic Advisor says the real monopoly to be worried about is in search, internet and social media

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INTERVIEW: Google and Facebook ahoy! India’s Principal Economic Advisor says the real monopoly to be worried about is in search, internet and social media
Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Adviser, Ministry of FinanceBCCL
  • On the question of emerging monopolies, Sanyal expressed concern about the monopolies in search, internet and social media, in a veiled reference to companies like Google, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter to name a few.
  • India’s latest annual economic survey highlighted the need for a regulator for private hospitals and doctors.
  • However, one of the contributors to the survey, Sanjeev Sanyal, the Principal Economic Advisor at the Ministry of Finance clarified in an interview with Business Insider, that the government does not want to socialise healthcare.
  • The intent is to regulate the sector and make it more transparent.
  • Check out the latest news and updates on Business Insider.
In what could be seen as a warning to the likes Google, Facebook and WhatsApp, an influential advisor to the Indian government said that there is a need to be watchful of the monopolies in online businesses like search, internet and social media.

In an interview with Business Insider, Sanjeev Sanyal, the Principal Economic Advisor at the Ministry of Finance, said that the government will act against such monopolies or oligopolies “in national interest”, whenever necessary, citing the example of the Tiktok ban.

The internet giant Google was under Competition Commission of India (CCI) radar recently for alleged ‘abuse’ of its dominant position; however the competition watchdog has recently dismissed the plea. Meanwhile the Facebook-owned WhatsApp has also been at the receiving heavy flak -- not only the users but also from the government — after it recently updated its privacy data sharing policies. The Indian government has come down hard on the messaging app, questioning the difference in policies for users in India as compared to that in Europe.

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India’s latest annual economic survey — a document that is often a cue for the country’s long-term policies— highlighted the need for a regulator for private hospitals and doctors. However, that does not mean that India is headed towards socialising healthcare, clarified

You can watch the entire interview here. Here’s the excerpts from the interview with Sanyal.

The economic survey said that there is a need for a regulator and constant monitoring of private hospitals and doctors. Is India moving towards a possible socialising or nationalising healthcare?

I think people are reading it wrong. Clearly, healthcare has come into focus this year. But it's an important factor even in normal times. The fact remains that the private sector makes up for a large chunk of the sector. But one of the learnings of COVID is that you need to have a robust public healthcare system too.

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We're not at all in favour of nationalising public healthcare. But you need a mixed system where public healthcare has a role to play. It is unlike say tourism or airlines. It needs public intervention. The public sector will be there along with the private sector as a competitor and also, as a backstop for emergencies. Finally, you need a regulator to make sure that even in the private sector, there is no opacity in pricing etc.

What’s in this budget for those who lost their jobs especially in the travel and tourism industry? How should they prepare themselves?

There were many international experts, and US-based economists who believed that we should ramp up our tax rates to fund a growing fiscal deficit. It should be followed where the advisor has skin in the game, so we're in favor of the US increasing its back. And you know if that turns out to be such a great idea, then we will also have a look at it.

However for the time being, we avoided it and decided to go for stability in tax rates. We will be pushing demand through higher spending.
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We need confidence to come back to spending, but it will only happen if jobs are created instead of simply giving out a dole.

Giving out checks doesn't lead to spending because somebody is uncomfortable about their job security. If you look at our spending data, you will see going back to October, we have dramatically ramped up capital spending. October capital spending was up 129% year on year. In November, it was up 249% and December was up 69%.

Why wasn’t there more emphasis on defence considering all that’s happening at the borders and elsewhere in the world?

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If you look at this government in the last couple of years, we have clearly ramped up defence spending in various ways. Defence purchases stuck for years are getting cleared.

By the way, much of this spending will not happen this year. Say we are going to buy fighter jets today, it’s not like you're paying today, or ordering or procuring. We also said that we are interested in Atma Nirbhar Bharat, and want indigenous technologies and production. At the same time, we are also keen on foreign producers relocating to India. Many rules have been changed to encourage foreign producers to produce in India so that defence clusters can be created. So I think this is wrong to think that we're not emphasising defence.

Is the government worried about emerging monopolies or oligopolies in telecom, retail and e-commerce, airports and ports, and renewable energy?

This is something we need to be always concerned about. It's not a one-off thing or specific to any particular sector. There is the Competition Commission, whose job it is to do this, and whenever they emerge, they look into it.
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The real issue with monopoly or oligopoly is a static problem of gouging prices. Very often they become monopolies by actually lowering prices and benefit from that. The real problem is that as dynamically they use their monopoly position to stop other players and new technologies from entering. That is what we have to be concerned about. Incidentally, many discussions are around domestic players. The real big monopoly is actually not a domestic one, but a global one.

Whether it's in terms of search on the internet or on social media…. What we do not want to do is to go the China route. We are an open democracy. So we want to keep things as open as we can. But we will act like in the case of certain Chinese apps when we felt that national interest was being compromised.

In other places where there are other monopolies, we'll have to be careful not to interfere with freedom of speech and other things. But these are, by the way, issues which are not Indian Issues.
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There are issues about monopoly just in terms of you know one group capturing a certain space, for example, cross border taxation of digital services. There are many tricky issues here. The body that is doing most particular in this space is the G20 and a lot of work is going on in the G20. Particularly the digital tax, the taxation track and also, by the way, the framework working group which I coach here.

What is more important for us? Is to have our own capacity first or to meet our climate goals? Because we are fairly short of where we wanted to be in 2022, especially in solar and wind.

Actually, we are doing rather well in terms of creating solar capacities, but you know there is also a resilience issue here. While we go solar, we will be making sure that we do have back up capacities from traditional fields. So we're also opening up some new coal mines and so on.

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You do need some resilience, some sort of shock absorbers to allow, while we build out these new capacities. Solar is a major area, but obviously quite invested. We have reached a scale where we need to create local capacities again. We cannot always remain dependent on Saudi Arabia for oil, and China for solar panels.

SEE ALSO: Budget 2021-22 prioritises Gaganyaan, India’s human spaceflight mission, over all others — here’s why

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