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COVID-19: Government Makes a U-Turn, Stops Sale of Non-Essential Items Through E-Commerce Platforms

The government on Sunday prohibited the sale of non-essential items through e-commerce platforms during the ongoing lockdown, four days after allowing such companies to sell mobile phones, televisions, laptops, 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.

The April 15 order had said e-commerce platforms were allowed to sell such items from April 20. The reason for reversing the order is not immediately known. 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 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 like mobile phones, TVs, refrigerators, laptop computers, ready-made garments, stationery items for schoolchildren would be available on the e-commerce platforms from April 20.

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

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 March 24 for 21 days in a bid to combat the coronavirus pandemic and later extended till May 3. Extending it, the Prime Minister on Tuesday also declared that select necessary activities will be allowed to be opened up from April 20 in identified areas of the country.

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