The Bombay high court has directed Maharashtra government to take immediate action against ecommerce companies that are delivering non-essential goods during the statewide lockdown that only allows delivery of essential goods like food, groceries, household items and more.
A Division Bench of Justices Ramesh Dhanuka and Madhav Jamdar was hearing the petition filed by Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association (FRTWA), which highlighted that brick-and-mortar store owners were incurring losses due to the restrictions imposed during the lockdown in the state, while the ecommerce companies were violating the government’s standard operating procedure.
Advocate Dipesh Siroya, representing the FRTWA, also told the court that the Maharashtra government has come up with a package for hawkers during the pandmeic, to make up for the losses they incur. The association sought direction from the bench to the state to formulate similar packages for retailers whose businesses have been shut for the time being. There are 13 lakh offline retailers with 45 lakh employees, the plea notes.
“The State Government will also indicate the steps already taken or would be taken against those dealers, for supplying various nonessential items in violation of clause 16 of the SOP date 13 April, 2021, if any. We direct that if the State Government finds any such violation, an action shall be immediately taken against those dealers and to stop such violation,” the court said in its order.
The Bombay high court’s order also highlighted the ecommerce entities are only allowed to supply essential goods and services, however, several entities are supplying non-essential services which is a gross violation of the SOP dated April 13, 2021. “It is the case of the petitioner that though this violation is brought to the notice of the state government, no action has been taken till date to stop this ongoing violation,” the order read.
While the court is right in stating that delivery of only essential goods has been allowed during the lockdown in Maharashtra, however, it is important to note that the state government hasn’t specified what constitutes essential items. This is also the case with several other states and union territories that have imposed the lockdowns amidst the second wave of Covid-19. Only Tamil Nadu has defined what constitutes essential items. Ecommerce companies have been using the lack of clarity to continue their operations during the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) had also written to union commerce minister Piyush Goyal, seeking stricter regulation on ecommerce companies that are delivering non-essential goods during the state-imposed lockdown.
“The sole purpose of the lockdown is to limit human-to-human interaction and reduce exposure of the general population to the Covid-19 virus and thereby break the chain and spread of Covid-19. Therefore, all non-essential activities, including the sale and delivery of non-essential items, are prohibited during the lockdown,” Praveen Khandelwal, national secretary-general of CAIT, said in the letter to Goyal.