Update (6:06 pm): The Ministry of Home Affairs has said that e-commerce companies are not allowed to deliver educational books or electric fans, Shambhu Nath Choudhary, Director (Media) at MHA, told MediaNama via email.

“Please refer to the Press Release of PIB dated 21.04.2020 on the subject. Book shops and shops selling fans exempted. Nowhere, it was mentioned that e-commerce companies can also deliver the same.” — Shambhu Nath Choudhary, Director (Media), MHA [emphasis ours]

We have reached out to Flipkart for comment.

Earlier (11:19 am): Flipkart has resumed selling ceiling fans, table fans, pens, erasers and course books on its platform. This may be in  violation of government guidelines for the COVID-19 lockdown. MediaNama was able to browse and able to order pens, books, and fans with next-day delivery or 2-day delivery.

In response to query by MediaNama, Flipkart has said, “At Flipkart, through our safe and sanitized supply chain, we’re only selling Grocery/Essentials which have been allowed by Govt guidelines. We’re also following our robust supply chain SOPs to ensure safe deliveries to customers at their doorsteps and helping enforce social distancing to contain this outbreak.”

We were able to place an order for pens today. Delivery is expected within a day and we got no disclaimer that it might be delayed because of the lockdown at any step.

What is not clear and might be in potential violation of Ministry of Home Affairs’ order is whether Flipkart is allowed to sell and deliver course books and electric fans during the lockdown. On April 21, the Home Ministry had included shops that sell either “educational books for students” or electric fans to its list of commercial and private establishments that can be allowed to operate, but the understanding here was that it only meant physical shops, not e-commerce platforms. E-commerce platforms were still restricted to essential items whose definition hasn’t been expanded beyond food, medicines, and medical equipment.

“As of now, they [e-commerce companies] are not allowed [to sell electric fans and books]. Only offline people are allowed. Usually, because it is lockdown period, it is good to have deliveries at home, instead of people going out,” Leena Jaisani, assistant secretary general who focuses on e-commerce at FICCI, told us. Amazon, Flipkart’s chief competitor, is not taking such orders and all “non-essential” products are listed as “Currently unavailable”, or their delivery date is listed after May 3, when the lockdown is expected to end.

A day after that, on April 22, industry body FICCI had written to Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, asking him to allow “e-commerce platforms to start taking online orders for books and facilitate the delivery at the doorstep”. “We have also asked the Home Ministry to allow shops that sell summer essentials, such as certain kitchen appliances, to open, along with their sale and delivery on e-commerce platforms,” Dilip Chenoy, the secretary general of FICCI, told MediaNama.

The same day, US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) had also written to Bhalla, seeking clarification on whether books and fans will be allowed to sell educational books for students.

This fan will be delivered tomorrow.

***Update (6:06 pm): Updated with response from Ministry of Home Affairs.

***Update (3:50 pm): Updated with statement from Flipkart; headline also updated. Order of paragraphs also rearranged.