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Home Ministry allows physical shops to reopen; e-commerce still restricted to essential goods

All shops, except those in multi-brand and single brand malls, registered under respective states’ and UTs’ Shops and Establishments Act can now open with 50% of their workforce. The government said that mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing would be required. This was announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs in an order dated April 24. Through a press release and a series of tweets, the Ministry clarified that e-commerce platforms are still restricted to selling essential goods only. Essential goods, as per the original March 24 order, are restricted to food, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.

The Delhi government, however, said that it will decide on the Home Ministry’s decision only this afternoon, NDTV reported. Delhi currently has 92 hotspots where shops will remain closed, but decision about the rest of the city will be taken today. Delhi State Health Minister Satyendra Jain said that any decision taken will be implemented only after April 30, ANI reported. It then appears that the Centre has allowed the states to take a call on whether or not all shops should be opened. We have reached out to the Home Ministry for clarification.

In a statement sent to media, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said that it had “appealed” to traders across the country to not open their shops immediately and instead wait for orders from their respective state governments. “Since Trade and Shops and Establishment is the State subject, only the States Governments are empowered to take the decision,” the statement said. CAIT has also asked the central government to “make a clear plan immediately and advise all the State Governments to take necessary steps for sanitising the markets and the shops”.

What is open and what is not? These relaxations are not applicable in hotspots and containment zones. In those areas, no shops can be re-opened. In rural areas, all shops except those in shopping malls can be opened. In urban areas, all standalone shops and those in residential complexes are allowed to open. Shops in markets, market complexes and shopping malls are not allowed to open.

Since the nationwide lockdown was initially announced on March 24, the Ministry of Home Affairs has largely maintained that e-commerce companies can only sell and deliver essential goods. However, when the lockdown was extended on April 15, the Ministry allowed e-commerce delivery of non-essential items as well. But on April 19, the government backtracked and reversed its decision, again restricting e-commerce operations to essential goods only.

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