Update 10:10 pm: The Ministry of Home Affairs has exempted delivery of all essential goods through e-commerce from the 21-day curfew that will go into effect at midnight on March 25. This includes delivery of food, pharmaceuticals, and medical equipment. This 21-day curfew has been imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in India.

You’re reading it here first: Treat e-commerce functions, such as delivery, warehouse operations, shipping and logistics, as essential functions, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) told all state governments in an advisory to permit IT/ITeS industry to carry out essential functions. To plausibly ensure that delivery personnel and other associated employees are carrying out these functions, the Ministry advised the state governments to treat “copy of orders, way bills, invoices” as evidence. The advisory, dated March 24, has been issued by Rajiv Kumar, the joint secretary at MEITY. Kumar’s office confirmed the authenticity of the attached document (see below).

Earlier today, Reuters had reported that e-commerce and online grocery delivery services were being disrupted across the country as multiple states have locked down to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Section 144 has also been imposed in multiple parts of the country, making it harder for delivery personnel to operate, and for warehouse employees to get to work. Flipkart and Amazon temporarily suspended logistics services for sellers across regions, according to an Economic Times report. The problem that e-commerce companies are facing right now is that different states have come out with different guidelines on their operations during the pandemic. For instance, the Tamil Nadu government has banned home deliver services such as Zomato and Swiggy as the state goes into a lockdown, but the Maharashtra government exempted food delivery as delivery of an “essential good”.

Certain IT/ITeS services cannot be deployed from home

MEITY also asked state governments to let people who are critical to the functioning of IT/ITES services to operate out of office, and give others in the industry three days to shift from office to home.

Dilip Chenoy, the Secretary General of FICCI, told MediaNama that the issue of treating certain IT/ITeS services as essential services had been brought up in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference with ASSOCHAM, FICCI, CII, and a number of representatives of different industries that was held yesterday evening. Chenoy, who was part of the conference, told us that certain CEOs, from healthcare and insurance companies, “who need to provide services” during the pandemic needed to work from office. “Earlier, the Department of Telecommunications had allowed other service providers to work from home, but certain people had to be allowed to [provide] service [to] their customers from sites,” he said.

According to ANI’s tweet, some of the industry participants included Uday Kotak (MD of Kotak Mahindra Bank), Ajay Piramal (chairperson of Piramal Group), Hari S. Bhartia (co-chairperson of Jubilant Bhartia Group), Venu Srinivasan (chairperson of TVS Group), Sangita Reddy (MD of Apollo Hospitals and president of FICCI), N. Chandrasekar (chairperson of TATA Sons), Navas Meeran (chairperson of Eastern Condiments) and Dr Naresh Trehan (chairperson and MD of Medanta). FICCI Delhi, ASSOCHAM Mumbai, and CII’s Chandrajit Banerjee and Vikram Kirloskar were also part of the conference.

Subject: Advisory to State Governments to permit IT/ITES industry to carry out essential functions.

In view of the prevailing situation due to COVID 19, the Government of India has issued several advisories regarding management of pandemic. The Department of Telecom has also relaxed provisions of OSP licencing enabling IT/ITES industry employees to work from home. However, in view of the lockdown, certain IT/ITES services are being hampered.

2. This Ministry has received representations/suggestions from various IT/ITES Industry Associations requesting to being uniformity across India, through a suitable advicory, with regard to essential functions that are undertaken by the IT-ITES industry amidst the Corona epidemic related restrictions.

3. Some of the State Governments like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharasthra and Telnagana have notified the essential nature of IT-ITES industry in their policy itself, with suitable enabling provisions in their respective Essential Services Maintenance Acts. The IT-ITES industry provides dollowing key essential services:

  • Government Services (tax administration, e-governance, cloud operation, passport services etc.)
  • Healthcare and Insurance related processing (prior approval of treatment etc.)
  • Provision and support to utilities customers (gas, electricity, mobile network, broadband etc.)
  • Maintenance and support of communication infrastructure (cell network support, ISP equipment support etc.)
  • Transportation related logistics support (support to trucking, shipping, air cargo services etc., including for getting essential aid/medicines supplied in a pandemic).
  • Support to banking services/payment services (KYC/AML support, KYC database updating without which, suspicious transactions might go undetected by the banking system)
  • E-commerce services and their warehouses and agents working for delivery of essential items.

4. In order to deal with the crisis situation emerging from the corona pandemic and related lockdown being announced by various State Governments, it is important that the following requests are suitably considered by the State Governments:

  1. Employees who are certified as ‘Mission Critical’ and associated with ‘Essential Services’ by the top management of the Company may be permitted to operate from the company offices on the basis of such certificate issued; and
  2. A reasonable time of three days may be given to persons who will operate from home, to enable shifting of necessary equipment, computers etc. from the office to home.
  3. E-commerce services (delivery warehouse operations, shipping logistics), on the basis of evidence like copy of orders, way bills, invoices etc. particularly in respect of essential items.

5. In view of above, State Governments are requested to take measures to ensure uninterrupted IT/ITES services. A copy of advisory issued in this regard by the State Government of Karnataka is also attached for your kind reference.

Signed (Rajiv Kumar)
Joint Secretary [sic]

***Update (10:10 pm): Article and headline updated with latest details from Ministry of Home Affairs. Article was originally published at 5:28 pm with the headline, “Exclusive: Treat e-commerce delivery as essential service during COVID-19 shutdown: MEITY advises state governments”

Read more about e-commerce operations during the 21-day lockdown here.