“My question to the TRAI about the Cloud Policy was ‘what is the market failure? How many people are dissatisfied? Has MeitY not done their work?'”, said Microsoft’s Chandrasekhar S at MediaNama’s first #PolicyNext conference held in Delhi on June 27th. One of the focus areas of our discussion was why a policy is made, the arguments around jobs and localisation, and the role of the e-commerce policy; see our entire coverage of the conference here.

Chandrasekhar, who heads policy and government affairs for Microsoft India, was speaking in the context of the TRAI looking to draft a new National Cloud Policy. “Let’s start with the first principle, why is a policy made? Its made to safeguard customer interest, to address market failure, and to provide a level playing field. But these parameters are not considered when a policy is being made.” Besides the above concerns, he also questioned how are policy-making responsibilities divided between MeitY and DoT. “The DoT should only be confined to the infra layer, and MeitY should get involved in the application layer. Today, if you are regulating cloud, tomorrow will you regulate Swiggy or Zomato?”

Please note that quotes aren’t verbatim, and have been edited for clarity.

Behind every policy is a lobby, interest group

“Policy is often triggered by an affected party, whether that’s a consumer group, consumer, civil society, adversely affected competition, and so on. Its very rare to find the government proactively making policy. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that behind every policy, behind every tech or business policy, there is a lobby; there is an interest group,” said Chandrasekhar S. “India is a loud democracy, so the good things is there is some consultation, but whether they listen, I don’t know.”

Rajneesh Wahi, who heads corporate affairs and communications at Snapdeal, countered that the drone policy was an example of policy coming before issues. Chandrasekhar, however, argued that drones policy had an interest groups – the customers and law enforcement who approached the Ministry of Civil Aviation. “The interested party can also be the government or law enforcement” he said.

The trigger for the e-commerce policy, Wahi said, was the Delhi High Court being seized of the matter, and if a policy wasn’t made, all e-commerce companies would have had to shut down by April 2016. Similarly, with the intermediary liability rules amendment, he said, WhatsApp was the trigger. “It’s been in discussion for almost 9 months. The outcomes may not please everybody, but that does not mean the government hasn’t consulted.” he said.

“India is a loud democracy, so the good things is there is some consultation, but whether they listen, I don’t know.”
– Chandrasekhar S

“Data localisation doesn’t create jobs; jingoism is taking over policy-making”

“Policy-making in India is bereft of any facts,” declared Chandrasekhar. “The government insists that storing data locally will lead to setting up of data centres and hence create jobs in India. Microsoft runs five data centres, but only four people are enough to run a $500 million data centre, since they’re by design not meant for human interaction because of security concerns.

“Microsoft’s data centres in India are located here not because the government wanted it, but because of customer demand. Jingoism and enthusiasm to do something good for the country is taking over.” Wahi agreed that data actually had no logic being in the e-commerce policy, but “the government does listen and is not unresponsive.

Rajneesh Wahi said that India is 12% of the world’s connected universe, if its making self-assured policies it’s not necessarily protectionist. “Policy made today can also be relooked at in a few years. India’s requirements are to make sure that our existing retail is not side stepped. 90% of retail is unorganized. You cannot have e-commerce grow at the expense of bazaars. And I am not saying it’s protectionist, it’s the reality.”

E-commerce policy was a signpost; was data in its ambit?

“The e-commerce policy is a very serious technology policy decision by the government, that we will think of the policy roadmap later, but we will put the signpost of the vision first.” said Amba Kak, who heads policy for Mozilla India. “Again, if ones digs deeper, the only policy roadmap you see in it is data localisation, and that seems to be unsatisfactory when you compare it to the goals of data sovereignty and, and data nationalism.”

The e-commerce policy is a narrow framework for what the government is actually trying to achieve; it wants to put forth a broad policy vision to capture both personal and non-personal data; and not just in terms of rights but also as an economic asset.
Amba Kak

Why does the e-commerce policy deal with data, asked Chandrasekhar. “What is the locus standi of the Ministry of Commerce to talk about data, anonymization, encryption, etc? This should be dealt with by MeitY or another specific body. Most people would say that an e-commerce entity does not deal with high-level encryption or AI, but according to the Ministry of Commerce, all these are subsumed into the e-commerce. Any electronic transaction becomes e-commerce. There is no differentiation. So, god only knows why this policy came, why it was all consuming.”

Rakesh Thukral, Edelman, asked for views on the role of consumers and consumer groups. Chandrasekhar said that consumers are spoiled for choice, they can move to other services if there is dis satisfactory response from the company. “In the few cases where there’s been alleged dominance by some very large search engines, for instance, that has been addressed by the competition commission. There are established mechanisms for consumers to make their voices heard, but if that doesn’t happen, they can resort to social media.”

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MediaNama’s first #PolicyNext conference, held in Delhi, was supported by Internet Society (APAC), OYO, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Digital Empowerment Foundation was the community partner for the event.