The Congress party on Saturday accused Modi government of denying a level playing field for the traditional traders by allowing e-commerce to deliver essential and non-essential goods even as retail shops for non-essential items are shut across the country due to the corona lockdown.
The Congress targetted the Modi government after the government had issued detailed guidelines allowing e-commerce companies to start their operations amidst nationwide lockdown. Speaking to reporters, senior party leader Ajay Maken asked the government to clarify on the new e-commerce guidelines while accusing MHA guidelines of limited economic activities denied a level playing field for the traditional traders.
Union govt’s order on e-commerce operations
On April 15, the MHA had issued guidelines that they could start delivering goods, both essential and non-essential goods from April 20.
Under the first phase of lockdown between March 24 and April 14, the Centre had only allowed delivery of essential goods, including food, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment through e-commerce platforms. However, the nationwide lockdown in India initially meant for a period of 21 days, was extended till May 3 as coronavirus cases in the country continued to rise.
The government had allowed all deliveries beginning Monday even though the coronavirus lockdown was extended till May 3.
Revised order issued by MHA
However, the Modi government in another notification released on April 19 said that supply of non-essential goods by e-commerce companies will remain prohibited after some section of the country raised apprehensions about denying level playing field for small retailers.
A brief order by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said, “E-commerce companies (and) vehicles used by e-commerce operators will be allowed to ply with necessary permissions’ – is excluded from the guidelines”. This means that e-commerce companies can’t resume their regular business from 20 April, which was allowed in the earlier order, although they will be allowed to supply essential items like brick and mortar stores. This revised order brings parity between regular and online shops, as now both categories are allowed to sell only essential items and not allowed to sell non-essential items till the lockdown remains in force.
Congress hypocrisy on e-commerce order
Ironically, while the Congress party which accuses Modi government of favouring e-commerce platforms over small retailers, they themselves denied level playing field for retailers in states like Maharashtra and Rajasthan where they are in power. The Congress-ruled states Maharashtra and Rajasthan have, in fact, allowed the opening of e-commerce platforms to deliver even non-essential goods, along with several other states.
As the Union Home Ministry had allowed the opening of e-commerce for all goods in its earlier order, several states had issued relevant notifications allowing e-retailing in non-essential items citing the MHA order. Maharashtra and Rajasthan were among the first states which had issued the notifications, which were followed by Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat etc.
The Maharashtra government in a notification dated April 15 had allowed e-commerce activities including delivery of all goods and commodities like food, pharmaceuticals, electronics and electrical appliances in the state. The order had encouraged Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal and other e-commerce companies and logistics firms to operate within the state.
Rajasthan had become the second state after Maharashtra to allow e-commerce firms to fully function and deliver all goods in the state beginning April 20.
Therefore, rather than advising their own governments to ensure a level-playing field by not allowing e-commerce in non-essential items, the Congress party decided to attack the union government in order to score some brownie points.
After the revised MHA order, it is expected that the respected states will also issue revised orders to reflect the same.