An interview with Geeta Gouri, Member, Competition Commission of India, New Delhi
Wafa: When and how did your association with JNU begin? What were your first impressions about this university?
Geeta Gouri: I joined Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as Doctoral scholar in 1971, the year JNU became fully functional. At that time JNU represented the high ideals of our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru after whom the University was named.
It is difficult to put in words what this new University meant to us, but by and large most of us joined JNU as it represented new and fresh initiative in higher education. The emphasis was on change in every sphere and walk of life.
My first impression of the University was the air of freshness and optimism which generated positive energy.
Wafa: How would you describe your years at JNU? Have you visited JNU recently?
Geeta Gouri: At the young impressionable age that one joined JNU exposure to several concepts and ideas combined with the rigor of economics that our faculty insisted on kept us on an intellectual high. The hallmark of JNU is that it is Pan Indian and the mixing of different people from different regions and different backgrounds gave a bird's eye view of multi-cultural India.
Recently I was invited by the Vice Chancellor of JNU to a gathering of distinguished alumni to interact with the team of experts of National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).
Wafa: How has JNU shaped your perception in relation to your profession? Do you think JNUites do things differently in your field?
Geeta Gouri: As stated earlier the scope provided for meeting people from different parts of India and understanding their sensibility combined with the fact that JNU is intellectually and politically very alive helped me to develop an understanding of diverse views and to appreciate the diversity. In my profession as an economist in the regulatory area the interchange of new ideas and divergent views is essential.
I think the JNUities, especially the initial batches, came with the ambition of making a difference in whichever profession they entered. It was not a career that we aspired for but rather to be harbingers of change. With pride I can state we have made a difference in whatever paths of our careers took.
Wafa: What was the trajectory that your career took after you left JNU? How is JNU different from various other institutions you have been a part of (if at all you think it is)
Geeta Gouri: Initially I taught in Lady Shri Ram College Delhi University after which my career took different turns as we shifted from Delhi to Hyderabad in 1980. It was really in Hyderabad at the Institute of Public Enterprises I had the opportunity of interacting with some exceptional people. Their perception on economic policies helped in shaping my understanding of economics and its applicability, looking at Government policies and of developing my understanding as a professional economist.
Later I joined IDBI at the training Institute Jawaharlal Nehru Institute for Development Banking (JNIDB). The tenure in a development bank, provided different insights in the financial world from the real world. Later I joined the Andhra Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission in Hyderabad (APERC) in 2000. In 2009 I joined Competition Commission of India, New Delhi as Member. By and large my career has been as a economist covering areas of regulatory economics, energy, policy analysis.
JNU was an unique experience. Unique in terms of inter-disciplinary courses offered. Located in Delhi the University attracted talented students, erudite scholars not only as part of faculty or students but the larger intellectual body that the capital tends to attract in comparision to other cities. On comparing JNU with Bangalore University where I did my graduation and post- graduation Bangalore University especially Central College was also very unique and has produced several high caliber intellectuals. I feel Bangalore University was perhaps more open and liberal than JNU. It may have been on account of the location of these two universities, one in a 'sarkari city' the other in a cosmopolitan city forerunner of a globalized flat world.
Wafa: Tell us a little bit about the Competition Commission of India and its involvement in providing a medium between the market, economic growth and the consumer needs. What is the role you currently play as a Member in the Commission?
Geeta Gouri: The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is the market regulator. Markets to function effectively and to ensure that the benefits of competition reach one and all they need to be regulated. Regulation of markets under economic reforms is very different from the early form of direct intervention and licensing. Competition is now universally acknowledged as the best means of ensuring that consumers, even more so the 'aam adami' or 'common man' have access to the broadest range of services at the most competitive prices. Producers will have maximum incentive to innovate, reduce their costs and meet consumer expectations / demand. Competition thus promotes allocative and productive efficiency, thus stimulating economic growth. This requires healthy market conditions and governments across the globe are increasingly trying to remove market imperfections through appropriate regulations to promote competition.
Perhaps, the role of the Commission is aptly summarized in the preamble to the Competition Act (2002):
An Act to provide, keeping in view of the economic development of the country, for the establishment of a Commission to prevent practices having adverse effect on competition, to promote and sustain competition in markets, to protect the interests of consumers and to ensure freedom of trade carried on by other participants in markets, in India, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto
The Commission is a quasi-judicial body with powers to impose monetary penalty. The recent DFF Order and the Cartel case of cement manufacturers have helped Commission establish its presence as an active and pro-market regulator. There are broadly three areas of intervention: Anti-competitive agreements which, among other things include cartels; Abuse of Dominance and Merger and Acquisition. As you may note the Competition Law is primarily an economic law and as Member (Economics) economic analysis of all cases have to be undertaken and issues examined as to whether competition is affected. Principles for defining market both relevant product market and relevant geographic market have to be developed. Another facet of examining competitiveness of a market and competition is that of 'consumer harm'. In India economics of competition law is still a new area.
Wafa: Which aspect of JNU did you love the most when you were a student here? Any particular memories that you would like to share?
Geeta Gouri: Hostel life is always the most interesting and memorable. Every evening there were group meetings, music sessions, discussions after dinner, all voluntary which made life colorful.
I guess for all of us it was really the Students' Union Election which brought to the forefront JNU's colour. Singing sessions both in the hostel and with Shri Anil Biswas were memorable. I met my husband in JNU, Prof Rajen Harshe who became the first Vice Chancellor when University of Allahabad attained its central status.
Wafa: Is there anything in your life which can be dedicated to JNU?
Geeta Gouri: Positive thinking and striving for excellence as exemplified by my teacher Prof. Ashok Sanjay Guha.
Wafa: What message would you like to give to the present JNU student community?
Geeta Gouri: You cannot rest on the laurels of your seniors. JNU must rise to meet the cutting edge required to join the league of International Universities.