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Govt sets up advisory council for Open Network for Digital Commerce; Nilekani, RS Sharma members

Alongside the ONDC project, the government is also proposing changes to existing legislation that could have far-reaching consequences in the e-commerce space.

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) on Monday appointed nine members to the advisory council for the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC), a government press release stated.

ONDC is a digital project launched by the government in 2020 to develop an open UPI-like architecture for the e-commerce landscape. The project aims to set protocols for cataloguing, vendor discovery, and price discovery, and standardise the process of onboarding retailers onto e-marketplaces as well as the supply and delivery of products through online channels. Currently, different platforms have different rules, making it difficult for small sellers to adopt and sell online.

“ONDC aims at promoting open networks developed on open-sourced methodology, using open specifications and open network protocols independent of any specific platform. ONDC is expected to digitize the entire value chain, standardize operations, promote inclusion of suppliers, derive efficiencies in logistics and enhance value for consumers.” – Press Release

The project was launched in the wake of a large number of complaints of malpractices and monopolistic tendencies of existing e-commerce companies.

Last November, the government had set up a steering committee to formulate, implement, and provide policy oversight on ONDC. The DPIIT has assigned the work of carrying out a pilot for ONDC to the Quality Council of India.

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Amendments to E-Commerce Rules taking place parallel

The ONDC announcement comes at a time when another major overhaul is expected in the e-commerce space. The government on June 21 proposed amendments that give the existing Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 2020 more teeth. The proposed changes include new rules to address abuse of FDI regulations, the establishment of a grievance redressal mechanism, new display and labelling criteria for foreign goods, the prohibition of flash sales, data protection for customers, among other things.

After multiple stakeholders raised concerns over the proposed amendments, the Department of Consumers Affairs on Monday extended the deadline for submitting comments and suggestions from July 6 to July 21, 2021.

Members of the Advisory Council

The members appointed to the Advisory Council to advise the government on measures needed to design and accelerate the adoption of ONDC are:

  1. R.S. Sharma, CEO, National Health Authority
  2. Nandan M. Nilekani, non-executive Chairman of Infosys
  3. Adil Zainulbhai, Chairman, QCI and Capacity Building Commission
  4. Anjali Bansal, Founder & Chairperson, Avaana Capital
  5. Arvind Gupta, Co-founder & Head, Digital India Foundation
  6. Dilip Asbe, MD & CEO, NPCI
  7. Suresh Sethi, MD & CEO, NSDL
  8. Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary-General, CAIT
  9. Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, RAI

Nandan Nilekani’s Beckn also working on similar protocols

Non-profit entity Beckn is also working on developing open specifications for mobility and commerce. “Beckn for digital commerce is what HTTP is for the World Wide Web and SMTP is for emails,” the company stated in its concept paper.

“Visualise Beckn as UPI for mobility and commerce. It integrates all these service providers and provides a single interface for application developers just like how UPI did for payment service providers,” one of the sources aware of the way Beckn works told Entrakr. “Simply put, a user would be able to book an Uber or Ola but wouldn’t require the Uber app,” the source added.

Beckn was co-founded by Nandan Nilekani, Pramod Varma, and Sujith Nair. Nilekani is now on the advisory council of the ONDC. Nilekani has played a key role in many government tech initiatives: he is the founding chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the body that issues Aadhaar cards, and the head of TAGUP, a government advisory group looking into the technological aspects of financial projects like GST and TIN.

One of the roles stated on the Beckn website is to enable “the government to promote an interoperable, open ecosystem of applications to connect consumers to providers, thus, maximizing value to all stakeholders without being monopolized by one or two players.” Given this and the shared connection of Nilekani, Beckn might have a role to play in the future of ONDC.

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RS Sharma, another member added to the advisory council, has also worked on Aadhaar along with Nilekani and now is the CEO of the National Health Authority where he is overseeing the CoWIN platform that is facilitating vaccine roll-out in the country.

ONDC will provide uniform opportunities for e-tailers: CAIT

“It will be one of the most innovative initiatives in e-commerce by any government in the world that will provide uniform opportunities to all e-commerce entities conducting their business activities through any mode of e-commerce,” B.C.Bhartia, National President, and Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary-General, Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said in a statement sent to MediaNama. Khandelwal is one of the newly appointed members of the ONDC advisory council.

Khandelwal said that ONDC will go beyond the current platform-centric digital commerce model and will connect buyers and sellers irrespective of the e-commerce platforms.

“The open network protocol is expected to act as a force multiplier for end beneficiaries: customers, application developers, governments, and businesses by creating an interoperable open playground to unlock value and innovation. This will be most impactful for MSMEs and small traders looking to unlock value and scale their operations through the digital commerce space.” – Khandelwal

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