Coronavirus Outbreak: Government decides to continue the suspension of non-essential goods supply

E-commerce platforms, however, are allowed to sell essential commodities such as food, pharmaceutical and medical devices

The government on Sunday prohibited e-commerce platforms from selling non-essential items during the lockdown, four days after allowing the companies to sell mobile phones, refrigerators and ready-made garments.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla issued an order excluding the non-essential items from the cart of e-commerce companies.

The order said the following clause — "e-commerce companies. Vehicles used by e-commerce operators will be allowed to ply with necessary permissions" — is excluded from the guidelines.

Asked why the government made a U-turn on the matter, Joint Secretary in the home ministry Punya Salila Srivastava said the Covid-19 situation has been very dynamic and the government is taking decision on a day-to-day basis.

Amazon packaging. Image: Reuters

The 15 April order had said e-commerce platforms were allowed to sell such items from 20 April. Image: Reuters

When the government has realised that allowing non-essential commodities to sell through e-commerce platforms may affect the proper implementation of the lockdown, the decision was reviewed and reversed, she said at a daily joint briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak

The 15 April order had said e-commerce platforms were allowed to sell such items from 20 April.

The reason for reversing the order was not known immediately, but there was a talk of some retail traders mounting pressure on the government that local shops be also allowed to sell non-essentials items, like e-commerce giants

E-commerce platforms, however, are allowed to sell essential commodities such as food, pharmaceutical and medical devices.

The previous order said, "Supply of essential goods is allowed, as under: All facilities in the supply chain of essential goods, whether involved in manufacturing, wholesale or retail of such goods through local stores, large brick and mortar stores or e-Commerce companies should be allowed to operate, ensuring strict social distancing without any restriction on their timing of opening and closure."

A day later, Home Ministry officials said electronic items such as mobile phones, TVs, refrigerators, laptop computers, ready-made garments, stationery items for schoolchildren would be available on the e-commerce platforms from 20 April.

Following that directive, a few e-commerce companies stated accepting online orders.

Later on Sunday, the home secretary wrote a letter to the chief secretaries of all States and Union Territories giving a clarification on the subject.

"...I would like to clarify that while operations of e-commerce companies for non-essential goods stands prohibited, however they will continue to operate for essential goods as has been allowed earlier and continue to be allowed," he said.

Bhalla also requested the chief secretaries to clarify this to all the field agencies and also adequately disseminate amongst the general public so as to ensure smooth movement of the entire supply chain of essential goods, including by e-commerce.

The guidelines and orders issued by the state governments and UT administrations in pursuance to the MHA orders may please be suitably modified to reflect the correct position, he said.

The government also allowed movement of all trucks and other goods vehicles with two drivers and one helper, subject to the driver carrying a valid driving licence.

An empty truck or vehicle will be allowed to ply after the delivery of goods, or for picking up goods

Truck repair shops and dhabas (eateries) on highways, with a stipulated minimum distance as prescribed by the state and union territory authorities, will be allowed to operate.

The lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March for 21 days in a bid to combat the coronavirus pandemic and later extended till 3 May.

Extending it, the Prime Minister on Tuesday also declared that select necessary activities will be allowed to be opened up from 20 April in identified areas of the country.

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