E-commerce giants Amazon India and Flipkart have urged the government to let them sell non-essential items during the lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus in India. The platforms stressed on people's need of these products over a prolonged period and promised to deliver them in a safe and secure way, ensuring social distancing.
When the lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month, the government had banned the sale of non-essential goods through e-commerce platforms during this period.
Amazon India urged the government to "enable e-commerce to play its role in the joint fight against the pandemic".
"E-commerce offers the safest way for sellers/retailers to serve the needs of citizens while ensuring social distancing. We are committed to keep citizens safe and urge the government to enable e-commerce to play its role in the joint fight against the pandemic by allowing the supply of all goods that people need over a prolonged period," Amazon India told NDTV. The company said letting them sell all goods will help "hundreds of thousands of small businesses jumpstart their livelihoods".
Flipkart said e-commerce can help meet the requirements of people in a safe and secure way while ensuring social distancing. "E-commerce can also support in easing the burden of piled up inventory of MSMEs and help in the delivery of these products to consumers in a safe and secure way while following the robust safety SOPs," Flipkart said in a statement.
While the delivery of all essential goods including food, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment are allowed through e-tailers, government has clarified more than once that the supply of non-essential goods via e-commerce platforms will continue to be banned during the lockdown period. Delivery agents handling essential goods had been instructed to seek permission to operate from individual state governments.
"It is clarified that sale by e-commerce companies will continue to be permitted for essential goods only," the Union Home Ministry said on Saturday, after a late-night order allowing all shops in residential areas - except those in malls and shopping complexes - to re-open.
There was some confusion over what e-commerce companies can sell and what they can't when the centre first permitting the online sale of goods like mobile phones, refrigerators, clothes, television sets and laptops, and banned their sale days later.
Most e-commerce companies have been facing crippling disruptions in services and businesses since the lockdown was announced.
India is currently in the middle of an extended lockdown meant to break the chain of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The clampdown on movement and economic activity was extended to May 3.