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Why scrapping the e-commerce policy is a mistake

India’s draft national e-commerce policy was negotiated behind closed doors with a handpicked group of companies that excluded some of the most significant players in India’s e-commerce landscape. The current protectionist draft by the companies and the government came up with was leaked to the press, and the government promised a public consultation, which did not happen.

Instead, as DIPP secretary Ramesh Abhishek and NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said in a revealing discussion on Monday, “you don’t need a policy actually,” and that “You can straightaway do the things to be done” with a mysteriously organised ‘committee of secretaries’. Will there be a policy? They refused to say explicitly.

Why we need a consultative approach to a policy

Policies shape the state of not just governance but has wide reaching impacts on everything we do.

  • A policy is essential. Regulating quickly behind closed doors is tempting.
  • But a technocratic “move-fast-and-break-things” impulse is dangerous.
  • Indian administrative and governance bureaucrats don’t often understand the gravity of the tasks before them — as is evident in some of the leaked e-commerce policy’s recommendations — which is why a consultative process is so important.
  • Curiosity and deliberation is baked into many of our regulatory and legislative actions for a reason. TRAI did not just start out with a goal to put powerful net neutrality rules in place. It did so after civil society and the public urged it to do so, and the regulator faced that feedback with curiosity and patience.
  • On top of that, a policy is not just a to-do list for IAS officers to hang on the notice board: It is a charter of responsibilities and expectations over the course of several years of administration that the government outlines for itself and the public.
  • A policy is essential for governance to be transparent, consultative and open, especially in the information age.

And for that, the draft national e-commerce policy needs to both officially exist, and be open for comment.

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