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Fate of e-commerce policy unclear as government officials contradict each other

A Commerce Ministry official told MediaNama today that there will still be a public consultation for the national e-commerce policy. This comes after a CNBC-TV18 report which said that the e-commerce policy had been dropped.

Ramesh Abhishek and Amitabh Kant, Secretary of DIPP and CEO of NITI Aayog respectively, said on Monday that a committee of secretaries had been created to look into e-commerce issues. They both refused to comment specifically on whether there would be a National E-Commerce Policy. “You don’t need a policy, actually,” Abhishek said. “You can straightaway do the things to be done.” Both officials dodged the question of whether there would be a policy after being repeatedly and pointedly asked whether there would be one.

Shalini Mahajan, deputy director of TPD and logistics at the Department of Commerce, told MediaNama that a consultation will still be happening after officials finalize which policies can and cannot stay in the draft.

ReadTraders’ body CAIT wants e-commerce policy before festive season

DIPP secretary: Why do we need a policy?

This is the transcript of DIPP Secretary Ramesh Abhishek and Amitabh Kant’s remarks on the e-commerce policy at a panel discussion on Monday. Abhishek and Kant both evaded pointed questions on whether a policy would be finalized.

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RAMESH ABHISHEK, Secretary, Department Of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP): We in DIPP are at the forefront of dismantling regulation. We’re at the forefront of dismantling complex processes. So we know it too well. Whether e-commerce needs a regulator for proper development of the sector, is a debatable point, this point has been made. This needs to be debated. What the government has done now is to make a committee of secretaries. And we are working on implementing a number of issues that will actually help the e-commerce sector.

In fact, why do you need a policy? If you’ve identified the things that need to be done, you can just go ahead and do it. So that’s what we have done. We had a meeting some time back. And we looked at the issues. How e-commerce can help in developing exports, for example. What are the issues that need to be addressed. So now we’re looking at the various ideas that have come up in the draft e-commerce policy.

SHEREEN BHANManaging Editor, CNBC-TV18: When will we see the policy being finalized, sir?

RAMESH ABHISHEK: That’s the point I’m making, that you don’t need a policy actually.

SHEREEN BHAN: Oh, we don’t need a policy? [crosstalk] So the draft is scrapped?

RAMESH ABHISHEK: You can straightaway do the things to be done. That’s what our committee of secretaries is doing.

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SHEREEN BHAN: So the draft is scrapped?

RAMESH ABHISHEK: See, there’s nothing to scrap.

SHEREEN BHAN: But there was a draft sir. There’s going to be no policy. You’re giving me a headline now.

RAMESH ABHISHEK: As a matter of fact, for developing exports through e-commerce, let’s say the committee had given fifteen recommendations. Now we’re trying to work out all the fifteen recommendations—

SHEREEN BHAN: When is the policy?

RAMESH ABHISHEK: —in consultation with the customs, the department of posts, and so on.

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SHEREEN BHAN: So DIPP says that there will be no e-commerce policy?

RAMESH ABHISHEK: No no, those are your words.

SHEREEN BHAN: No, I’m asking you, is that a correct interpretation of what you just said?

RAMESH ABHISHEK: See, government has very clearly said, this committee of secretaries will actually start doing the things that are required to be done in coordination with other departments for developing the e-commerce sector.

SHEREEN BHAN: Sir that’s not the headline. The headline is DIPP says no need for e-commerce policy. [laughs]

AMITABH KANT, CEO of NITI Aayog: Shereen, you—

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SHEREEN BHAN: You’ll send me a message later on saying I twisted your words. [laughs]

AMITABH KANT: You are a master of twisting words in any case. The objective, what Ramesh is saying, is that you– you know, we are at the beginning of the e-commerce revolution. Our objective should be, how do we make e-commerce make the economy… Our objective has to be that e-commere should create a vast number of jobs. Thirdly, I think our objective should also be that e-commerce players should not distort the market. So, looking at it from the objective of growth and jobs, this particular committee which Abhishek is talking about, will interact with all the ministries and push through all that is required to create jobs and to push growth.

SHEREEN BHAN: Without a policy?

AMITABH KANT: So Ramesh said that, that you need action. You know, you need a lot of movement forward in terms of action–

SHEREEN BHAN: It’s a simple question I’m asking you, is there going to be an e-commerce policy?

AMITABH KANT: No, I don’t say– You need movement and action, and you need step by step opening up rather than policy framework.

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SHEREEN BHAN: Full marks to both of you. Both of you played like Pelé today, but damn, the ball is gone in some other direction. You’re refusing to give me a straightforward answer, yes or no? [laughs]

AMITABH KANT: See, problem is you look for news. We are not in the business of giving news.

ReadDraft National E-commerce Policy: data localisation and priority to domestic companies

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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