E-commerce firms such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal on Thursday clinched permission from the Central government to sell non-essential items apart from the essentials they were already selling, bringing respite to consumers, too.
The rider is that state governments will decide what items will be allowed to be sold. If the states permit, electronics such as phones, laptops, and televisions as well as garments would be allowed to be sold on the online platforms, starting April 20.
Rajasthan and Maharashtra have already allowed e-commerce firms to sell non-essentials products. Karnataka, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh are also expected to give permissions soon.
“We might get the permissions by late Thursday, that is the indication we are getting from the governments in Karnataka, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh,” a senior official working with an e-commerce company said. “Odisha and Goa had given permission for sale non-essentials before the fresh guidelines by the Ministry of Home Affairs, so they may need to come up with a new notification.”
E-tailers had reached out to the government on Wednesday, seeking clarity on whether they would be allowed to sell non-essential items under the fresh guidelines. The new norms allowed them to operate without any restriction on their working hours from April 20, provided they ensured strict social distancing. While inter-state transportation of non-essentials was allowed, it was not clear whether e-commerce companies would be allowed to sell such products.
Even with permissions, however, the e-tailers face an unhill task in making non-essential items available to its customers, with absenteeism of its delivery staff, delays in getting various permissions from local authorities and with the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) raising its voice against the “leeway” given to the online platforms.
CAIT, in a communication sent to Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday, objected and said such a move will create an uneven field and will give rise to unnecessary conflicts. CAIT has demanded that the government immediately advise Maharashtra and Odisha to withdraw notification allowing the online firms to sell non-essentials. It has sent similar notes to Home Minister Amit Shah and Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri.
Meanwhile, a person working with an online platform said “giving e-commerce companies the permission to deliver non-essential products without unlocking the labour puzzle is not actually going to help”.
Analysts said though curfew passes can be procured online from states, they have to wait for long and, sometimes, their systems break down.
The other challenge is that there is a cap on the number of passes that can be issued and they are individual-specific, which means many would get wasted if some workers decide not to come to work.
“We won’t take more than what social distancing norms allow but there should not be any restriction on number of passes,” the person said.
According to an internal communication, Flipkart will open up fully from April 20. The communication says the supply chain will start working at 50 per cent outbound capacity initially, which will be ramped up to 100 per cent in 15 days.
With inputs from Yuvraj Malik