The Government of India has issued a draft on the e-commerce policy that aims to create a single legislation to address all aspects of e-commerce and a single regulator to consider issues like foreign direct investment (FDI) implementation in e-commerce.

However, stakeholders expressed concern and seek clarification from the government.  Retailers’ associations stated that the draft lacked some fundamental points and even lacked consensus on the subject.

The stakeholders are now seeking time from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, to press upon it their demand for a level playing field and considering the same definition for both offline and online retailers. Experts have opined that the new draft created ambiguity in the definition of e-commerce.

Commenting on the new e-commerce policy, Kumar Rajagopalan, chief executive officer, Retailers Association of India (RAI), said that the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion’s (DIPP) new policy for e-commerce in the country, which was supposed to include issues relating to FDI, actually divided the retail industry.

He added, “Retail is about multi-channel, and the laws that apply to one channel should be the same for the other channels. Business-to-consumer (B2C) is retail, irrespective of the channel — online, offline, direct selling or television — it is conducted on.”

Rajagopalan said, “We believe that the policy for regulating marketplaces issued via Press Note 3 by the then commerce minister and DIPP secretary Amitabh Kant was well-drafted and only needed implementation to ensure a level playing field.”

“Press Note 3 was created on the basis of an RAI submission. But RAI was not invited to deliberate on the new e-commerce policy, the reasons for which were not available to us. The government needs to ensure adherence to the existing regulations rather than keep tinkering with the policy, unless it intends to further divide retail on the basis of channels and compound the confusion in the FDI policy for retail in the country,” he added.

In a statement, the Confederation All India Traders (CAIT) said the draft of the policy lacked various important fundamentals of e-commerce, and CAIT will soon submit its exhaustive memorandum on the draft to the commerce minister. It argued that cash-on-delivery (COD) in e-commerce business should be strictly prohibited.

Some of the recommendations of the draft e-commerce policy include 49 per cent FDI in B2C e-commerce, but the control and management must rest with resident Indians and such entities would be allowed to hold their own inventory of locally-produced goods, a concession which was not applicable for majority foreign-funded companies. India has also allowed 100 per cent FDI in food retail manufactured and produced locally.

According to the draft, the government is planning a single legislation to regulate all aspects of the e-commerce business, and is also exploring the idea of appointing a regulator to monitor all sector-related issues.

The draft also suggested the creation of a central consumer protection authority to act as a nodal agency for intra-government coordination, mandatory registration of all e-commerce operators and registration of complaints.