The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) in a communication sent to Union Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal has strongly raised its earlier demand to constitute a Regulatory Authority for e-commerce and has suggested that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs may be designated as the Regulatory Authority for e-commerce business in India.
Citing figures of the Consumer Affairs Ministry released in March, 2021 which stated that during April 2020 to February 2021, the complaints related to e-commerce stands at 22%, which was the highest among five segments including banking, telecom, electronic products and consumer durables.
The CAIT has further said that across the globe the e-commerce market is governed by a robust Regulatory mechanism except India. E-commerce rules and regulations without a Regulatory Authority shall be an unfinished reform in e-commerce. Therefore, a Regulatory Authority for e-commerce must be constituted to protect the interests of the consumers and make e-commerce viable for the traders to adopt in a seamless manner.
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs is once again conducting one another round of consultations with stakeholders on e-commerce rules under Consumer Protection Act as per the directions of Piyush Goyal who conceded the proposal of the CAIT for a re-consideration on the draft e-commerce. The CAIT said that such an exercise will certainly give one more opportunity to draft the rules in a most calibrated manner to ensure free, fair and transparent operations of e-markets in India in order to protect the rights of the consumers to get the best product within the parameters of their spending.
CAIT National President B.C. Bhartia & Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal said that among the Union Government ministries led by Piyush Goyal, Smriti Irani and that of Hardeep Puri are the only ministries which engaged stakeholders for consultation on a regular basis in order to ensure “participatory governance” call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The trading community is yet awaiting other concerned ministries to follow the principle of stakeholders consultation.
Bhartia and Khandelwal said that the e-commerce trade in India is growing exponentially and is expected to reach US dollar 100 billion in size by 2024 & to a staggering US dollar 200 billion by 2026. The e-commerce trade is predominantly growing on the back of grocery retail, FMCG goods, Apparel, Consumer durables and electronics, ever increasing mobile phones and internet penetration, Watches, gift items, toys, Home Décor, Computers & peripherals etc. and having a large scope of thousands of other items those are being traded in the Country or large number of services being provided to the consumers in terms of delivery of food items, ticketing, Cab services, online entertainment etc.
The necessity and convenience of e-commerce has been reinforced in the COVID induced across the Country through making essentials and non-essentials available to the citizens of the Country and thus have become a way of life.
Both the trade leaders said that according to data from the consumer affairs ministry, during the April 2020-February 21 period, consumers logged 1,88,262 disputes or claims related to e-commerce transactions. Between April 2017 and February 2021, the grievance redressal system received 5,23 823 complaints related to e-commerce. These numbers are alarming because the e-commerce business in India is at a nascent stage and such a large number of complaints speaks to the casual and lethargic manner in which the Indian e-commerce landscape is operating.
Bhartia and Khandelwal further said that even in the Country, all other sectors of the economy like telecommunication, banking, stock market, insurance etc. do have a robust monitoring mechanism. However, the technology based e-commerce sector does not have a Regulatory Authority. There is no accountability of either the seller or the marketplace which has led to several recent instances where prohibited items like marijuana, poison, raw material used for making bombs are being facilitated through e-commerce portals have been caught red-handed. We have reason to believe that several other unlawful activities must have been conducted on e-commerce portals. Absence of any strong KYC norms for the sellers or no responsibility of the market place are the precise reasons.
Both the trade leaders said that it is a matter of common knowledge that in the absence of any regulatory framework, the fast growing e-commerce business in India has become hostage at the hands of foreign companies who are twisting the arms of both consumers and the traders by continuously flouting the rules & regulations and conducting mal-practices in utter disregard of established principles of trade & commerce whereas on the other hand rendering meaningless the “Digital India” campaign of Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi by depriving crores of traders across the Country to provide goods & services through e-commerce by creating an uneven level playing field.
It may be also admitted that with the increase of e-commerce business, there is a spurt in consumer complaints and having no regulatory Authority in place, the consumers are running from pillar to post but not getting relief in terms of their complaints.
Therefore, a Regulatory Authority on the pattern of TRAI to monitor and regulate the e-commerce business in India and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs be designated as the Regulatory Authority for e-commerce. This step will not only protect the interests of the Consumers but will also ensure a robust e-commerce landscape in India-said Bhartia and Khandelwal.