Mr. Varun K Chopra has more than 11 years of experience. He has previously worked with Khaitan & Co at Delhi for four years and subsequently assisted Mr. Vivek Tankha, Senior Advocate (former Additional Solicitor General of India).
He is primarily involved as an advisory on issues related to corporate, taxation and competition laws, assessment/ adaptation of tax structures, pro, and anti-competitive issues in deals, licensing arrangements relating to technology transfer/ IPR-competition, and risk analysis for transactions and regulatory overlap issues in India and overseas. He is also involved in litigation at various quasi-judicial and judicial forums including the Supreme Court of India in sundry matters of Indian law.
Further, he is also involved in issues pertaining to the regulatory framework at various forums and advised several industrial houses and multinational corporations on competition law, indirect taxation laws, and other corporate commercial and business laws
Swastika from Libertatem got a chance to interview Mr. Chopra regarding questions that bothers everyone such as the legal education system in India to skills needed to run a successful law firm. Mr. Chopra’s full interview transcript is shared below.
Swastika: Was a career in Law always your first choice? What motivated you to choose law as a career?
Varun K Chopra: As every middle-class family, I thought to do engineering and get a safe and secured job, thus, I was preparing for entrance for IITs, though one day at the bus stop waiting for my bus, I noticed about 40 more students like me standing and waiting. So, I thought to myself logically, I have to first outrun these 40 first and then get a job? During the time, law entrance for NLIU was just around the corner so attempted and gave the exam, thankfully cleared, and went on to pursue LAW with passion.
Always believed in “LAW IS LOGIC, EVERY LOGIC IS NOT LAW”
Swastika: You have been a visiting faculty at various esteemed universities. How do you feel about the caliber of Legal Education provided in India?
Varun K Chopra: Access to knowledge plays a major role in shaping a law student. The absence of access to legal resources is a major problem faced by the legal institutions of the country. Most of the database access demands substantial payment compelling students of traditional law colleges to the look for alternative sources, which mostly are less qualitative. Administrative inefficiency also deteriorates the quality of legal education at many levels.
In a legal system where ignorance of the law is not an excuse, access to knowledge of law remains a primary concern of legal education. BCI should consider seriously whether the current rules and regulations in fact meet with the challenges faced by the legal profession in the era of liberalization, where every private institute is bent upon to ma:e profit at any cost.
Swastika: You have worked with Khaitan and Co. for four years and then assisted Mr. Vivek Tankha, Senior Advocate, and then started your own firm. What according to you are the requirements of running a successful Law Firm?
Varun K Chopra: Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, passion towards law with intent and endeavor to seek justice! Please visit our website to know more about us. It’s www.officevkc.com
Swastika: Considering the current COVID- 19 situations, the Indian Government announced various Tax and Regulatory Reliefs such as Extension of Tax Filing Deadlines, revised TDS Rates, etc. Do you feel that these measures are sufficient? If not, what other problems can the TaxPayers face and what are the solutions to these problems according to you?
Varun K Chopra: No, I would say the government has failed to address this issue efficiently, as there are various problems that taxpayers are facing which have not been addressed by the measures issued by the government. That even before the imposition of lockdown India’s economy was going down the hill, so the recent measure issued by the government are not sufficient to boost the economy. As government through the recent measures has reduced income tax rate but the effect of income-tax cuts on demand will be limited, as it will benefit a small proportion of the population, less than 5% of the adult population, who would spend a fraction of the gains from the tax cut. Instead, the Centre should use the tax proceeds to spend on infrastructure and schemes that will directly boost demand.
A concern that still remains to be addressed is on the filing of GSTR-3B, essentially because of the unprecedented lockdown being announced with digital signature certificates (DSCs) not being available with taxpayers for filing of returns.
That due to no business activities in the past 3 months Individuals/ companies/Industries who have taken loans are under huge burden for repayment of loan/Interest. That central government vide its relief package has failed to address the issue of loan moratorium and has not passed any effective guidelines with respect to the moratorium. However, recently Hon’ble Supreme Court has directed the central government and RBI to review moratorium schemes on the term loans and create tailored schemes for various sectors, including agriculture.
What I would suggest is that Individual taxpayers can be promised a kind of ‘tax-funded insurance’ to meet eventualities like medical and job-related exigencies. Similarly, there can be schemes for corporates and businesses for events like bankruptcy.
Swastika: You are an advisor on issues related to Competition Law. Do you feel that the during the current lockdown situation there has been a bias towards big multinational firms like Amazon Flipkart, etc. as they were allowed to continue the delivery of their products while most of the small store owners were forced to keep their shops shut for a very long period of time and incurred huge losses. Moreover, these firms also indulge in the practice of deep discounting which reduces the value of a product in the minds of the customers and hence creating an uneven playing field as it influences the market price to such a level that the small store owners cannot afford to sell it at that price. What measures do you suggest should be taken to control this?
Varun K Chopra: Online retail giants have been using the marketplace model to imply that they are just facilitators and not actual sellers of products and therefore, not a competitor to small brick and mortar shops. Whereas major sellers on these websites are the marketplace owners itself, e.g. WS Retail in case of Flipkart and Cloudtail in case of Amazon.
To curb such practices and protect a large number of small retailers the Central Government has amended its e-commerce policy. For example, in the 2016 policy, it was mandated that an e-commerce entity will not permit more than 25% of the sales affected through its marketplace from one vendor or their group companies.
Thereafter, in February 2019, another wave of changes to FDI policy for e-commerce was effected by the Government whereby Marketplace entities were restrained from holding more than 25% from a single vendor; Entities were Entities in which there is equity participation by the marketplace entities or having control on its inventory by marketplace entities cannot sell their products on the platform run by the marketplace entities; Marketplace entities cannot mandate any seller to sell any product exclusively on its platform;
However, most of these e-commerce giants developed complicated seller structures that helped them comply with the inventory control rule while exercising some level of control over inventory.
Apart from this various traders’ associations have initiated proceedings against the e-commerce giants. In 2018, the Competition Commission of India held that no case of contravention of Section 4 of the Competition Act was made against the Flipkart or Amazon. In February this year, Karnataka High Court stayed similar proceedings initiated before CCI against both the e-commerce entities.
With deep pockets and infrastructure, these entities are obviously at an advantage and changes to the FDI policy are a positive step to creating a level playing field. However, such regulatory changes are always followed by adaptations that virtually nullify the purpose of such changes. It is a cat-and-mouse game at this point.
Therefore, it is imperative to balance out the promotion of the e-commerce industry with the interest of existing small-scale retailers.
Swastika: You are a member of the International Bar Association. How would you compare the Competition Laws of India with that of other countries?
Varun K Chopra: The Indian competition regime is based largely on the jurisprudence developed in the EU and the USA therefore, the basic principles governing the regime are almost the same in all jurisdictions. The difference largely lies in the enforcement mechanisms.
For example, CCI in India can approve mergers, however, in USA agencies are required to approach Courts for effecting a merger.
Another example would be a single legislature i.e. Competition Act and single agency i.e. CCI approach in India. Whereas, USA has two major anti-trust statutes and the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for enforcing them.
The difference may be attributed to the development and conditions that exist in India, which are remarkably different than those that exist in the other jurisdiction. However, the jurisprudence and substantive principles remain the same.
Swastika: These days, there are a lot of Advocates who wish to set up their own Law Firms. Some succeed while some do not. What is your piece of advice to the people who want to set up their own Law Firm someday?
Varun K Chopra: As I have already told success is no accident. It comes with hard work and only hard work and I agree with you that only some people get success after starting their law firm but what I believe is that if you have that fire in your belly, you will get success one day. Opening a law firm is a big challenge in itself as you have to manage everything starting from logistics, office essentials, associates and clients, etc.
What I would suggest to the young lawyers who wanted to open their law firms someday is that they should try to build strong relations with the clients they are currently dealing with because clients will be the driving force of your firm. Always plan ahead of everyone out there, set goals for yourself, pick up the area of law and get specialized in it, plan your week, and most importantly always prepare To-Do List which will make you organized. Sometimes you’ll get failure but what would I suggest never stop doing hard work one day you’ll get success.
Swastika: The law students who were about to get their degrees this year but are yet to receive it are pretty confused on how to deal with the current situation and how to make it big in the field of law as a lot of them are left without jobs and internships. What are your suggestions for them?
Varun K Chopra: At the outset, I say this to all the budding lawyers that always believe in the Mantra of “Hard work”. I would say that extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary steps to be taken. I have always told this to my juniors/interns/students that always be creative, think out of the box which others are not thinking of by this you’ll be ahead of everyone out there.
I would suggest to fresh graduates that by the time they are getting any offers from law firms/chambers/companies they should start polishing their skills, I would suggest they should read as much as they can utilize this time in exploring various fields of law, read Hon’ble Supreme Court, High Court’s landmark Judgements and make compilations of those Judgements doing this they will ahead of many of their colleagues. In the meantime, fresh graduates can enroll themself with the state bar council which will save their time.
I assure fresh graduates that there is nothing to fear about as soon as ongoing situations get normalize there will be lots and lots of opportunities and they will get Jobs, by the time, read as much as you can, remain focused, and plan your goals.