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Don’t let vested interests stifle innovation: Prosus CEO

NEW DELHI: The Indian government should be careful about the intense lobbying by vested interests which are affected by technology disruption and not let them impact new business models and innovation, said Prosus CEO Bob van Dijk.

An investment holding company which was recently spun off from South Africa’s Naspers and listed in Amsterdam, Prosus is the biggest technology investor in India after SoftBank with close to $5 billion deployed in the country. It has backed companies like online food delivery player Swiggy and education tech startup Byju’s in India.

In an interview to TOI, Dijk said that in some cases, complaints are valid, where there is “unreasonable competition” and everyone should follow rules that are put in place by the government. Dijk said that such moves “in the end do not benefit the customers”, adding that “India has found a good balance and the Modi government is impressive in its judgment” in the past.

Dijk’s statement comes at a time when the department for promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT) is looking into online food delivery companies like Zomato and Swiggy, where Prosus owns a 39% stake for an investment of $850-900 million, for deep discounting, data masking and private labels. The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) has also filed a list of complaints with commerce minister Piyush Goyal. At the same time, trade groups including CAIT have intensified a push against online retailers Amazon and Walmartowned Flipkart.

On the recent move by the government to look into complaints by restaurants, Dijk said that the “noise has been around Zomato, which has been very aggressive”. He said, “I think with restaurants, Sriharsha (Majety, CEO of Swiggy) has been acknowledging their key role in the ecosystem and wants them to be successful.”

Prosus has also made investments like in social commerce player Meesho, logistics venture ElasticRun and carpooling player Quik Ride this year. Its other portfolio companies in India include payments company PayU and classifieds platform Olx, which it completely owns.

Dijk also added that unlike Europe, India does not risk being a digital colony dominated by US technology companies because of the efforts made by the government in areas like digitisation, a stable policy to attract investors, and local innovation. Dijk added that India continues to be the top investment market for Prosus, which is most well known for its early bet on China’s WeChat messaging application owner Tencent. “Most asked about geography was India when Prosus was on the roadshow,” he said.
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