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Questions arise on Digital India Act, other tech regulations in coalition govt Questions arise on Digital India Act, other tech regulations in coalition govt


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New Delhi: Policymakers and legal experts fear unfinished technology policies and laws, including the overarching Digital India Act (DIA), to go on the back-burner, as a coalition government in the potential third term of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) may focus on more pressing political issues. A key factor behind this could be a bigger influence of political agenda among independent parties within NDA, which could play spoilsport to an influx of tech regulations that peppered the second term of NDA.

“With a new coalition government, priorities will vary from how it worked in the previous term. The general understanding is that existing legislations that were at an advanced stage are likely to continue in the same vein, while new and proposed tech regulations that were at an early stage may see a fresh legislative approach, once the new government forms,” said Supratim Chakraborty, partner at law firm, Khaitan & Co.

Chakraborty’s assessment is largely in line with what other industry stakeholders are expecting of the upcoming government. While the second NDA term introduced a spate of technology regulations, many remain unfinished. Laws that have been passed in Parliament include the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 and the Telecommunications Act, 2023. However, the Digital Competition Bill, 2024 remains at a draft stage, while the proposed umbrella regulation, the DIA, could not proceed beyond preliminary industry consultations with the previous government.

Regulatory Delays

Now, stakeholders expect unfinished regulatory work to be considerably affected. A senior policy official who works closely with the ministry of electronics and information technology (Meity) said on condition of anonymity, “Given that this is a coalition government, what is likely going to come under the scanner are more contentious political issues. Driven by a broader, more encouraged Opposition, the Centre will likely focus on such points to begin with. As such, it is unlikely that the erstwhile proposed technology regulations such as the DIA will simply resume from where they had left off.”

The overarching DIA was already confirmed to be resumed from scratch by the to-be-formed government at the Centre, former Union minister of state for IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, had told Mint in November. Now, two senior policy officials who work closely with Meity told Mint that the Act itself could be revised and replaced by an entirely new regulatory approach.

Prioritization of tech policy, as a result, remains a concern. One of the two senior policy officials who work closely with Meity said that “it will depend entirely upon the incumbent cabinet minister for IT, and their personal interest in it, to bring tech legislation to the fore—at present, this looks unlikely, and this does not spell confidence for the DIA.”

Policy Concerns

Policy consultants also raised concerns around how this may impact the future of India’s tech ecosystem. Isha Suri, research lead for technology and telecommunications at policy think-tank Centre for Internet and Society, said, “It is definitely an encouraging prospect to have substantial opposition in Parliament. The previous government went through multiple tech and telecom policies, but left much to be desired in the actual implementation of what the impact of these policies on the ground could be. For instance, the Telecommunications Act, 2023 saw the previous government promise to replace the previously draconian laws in the telecom space, but questions have been raised in terms of the on-ground impact and implementation of this Bill.”

“Similarly, the impact of the Digital Personal Data Privacy Act, 2023 remains yet to be seen as its rules are yet to be notified. This remains pending for the next government, and it will be crucial for the opposition to raise a strong voice of concern against unchecked powers of surveillance that the previous government afforded itself. All of this can potentially change, but it is unclear how important tech policy itself will be in the next term,” Suri further added.

Most, however, agree that policy uncertainty is not a major concern at the moment. “It will, in all likelihood, be the same central government in power—which means that the overall thought process is unlikely to change,” the other senior policy official who works closely with Meity said.

The first of the two senior policy official working closely with Meity further added that uncertainties may lessen. “If you look at how certain aspects, such as Meity’s advisory on artificial intelligence from March this year, played out, you’d think that a new ministerial hierarchy for IT and telecom could bring a less turbulent and knee-jerk advisory-based rule-making at the Centre. This, in turn, could be key.”

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Published: 06 Jun 2024, 08:26 PM IST