Government’s “handling” of E-commerce businesses! What is the right way?
On August 28, 2020 (Bhadra 11, 2077), Nepal police detained a total of 65 employees and owners of various e-commerce businesses including Foodmario, Urban Bazaar, Dalle, and a few others. Such an abrupt decision of the authority has since garnered wide public attention. In this day and age of modern technology, such allegedly illegal detention has led to various conjectures most of them implying that the country is moving towards a retrogressive path.
With the unprecedented surge in pandemic infection within the valley, the District Administration Office (hereinafter referred to as “Office”) issued a prohibitory order within the valley on August 19, 2020 (Bhadra 2, 2077) to be followed under the modality prescribed thereunder. Similarly, another notice was issued by the Office on August 26, 2020 (hereinafter referred to as the “notice”) for the extension of such order till the midnight of September 2 ,2020 (Bhadra 17, 2077) which reiterates the same modality to be observed. The notice reads that the vehicles used for the supply of essential things and services such as food items, vegetables, fruits, sanitary products, etc. shall not require pre-approval from the authority for their operation. However, the notice specifically mandates that the shops selling and supplying food items, milk and milk products, fruits and vegetables, meat products and such may be opened only until 9:15 A.M.
Yesterday, after a week of issuance of such notice, the police authority in the valley abruptly detained people engaged in delivery services of food items, vegetables and fruits (though they were engaged in it from the start). Police didn’t only detain the vehicles of delivery services on the road, but they went into the offices to detain their entrepreneurs. The detention was allegedly made on the grounds of violation of the prohibitory order by such businesses. Such detention was made without any legal procedure or any warrant or notice and against their agreement with the government. The “arrest” was claimed to be an order from the “superior authority”, which went on to portray that the police authority of the country supposedly the keepers of “rule of law” was shamelessly defiant of the very principle. Regarding the claim made by the police on operation of hotels and restaurants regardless of the prohibitory order, the detention of the online portal operators rather than the operators of such hotels and restaurants seems to be an execution of the order which is totally on the wrong front.
Having said that, some of the business operators were to blame as well. Whereas the notice clearly allowed the operation of vehicles for the supply of essential goods only, various delivery businesses were engaged in the delivery of luxury goods such as cakes, and other fast foods. The Government of Nepal issued the prohibitory order with the one and only motive to reduce human interaction as much as possible. But, the online delivery of such clearly non-essential items surely is against the main agenda. At such a hard time where the whole country is fighting against a pandemic, rather than looking at the personal wants of their customers, such businesses operating online delivery services must work towards the benefit of the country as a whole.
How the issue should have rather been handled?
Rather than handicapping e-commerce businesses by such abrupt and arbitrary detention, the government should instead take a proactive role by promoting e-commerce, which is the need of the hour. Government should frame rules to regulate them and ensure that such operators and employees take proper precautionary measures and abide by the minimum health standard. The Government of Nepal may as well issue health guidelines for the operation of such businesses, whereby the government authorities themselves are made to examine whether such businesses meet the mandated health standards.
Rather than abruptly detaining the e-commerce business operators and stopping all such services, the government should institute a mechanism to allow certain delivery businesses as long as they engage in the supply of essential goods and services, and abide by the issued prohibitory order. On the other hand, detaining people on the mere claim of superior order and acting against their pledge to support e-commerce business is wrong and immoral. If any order has been issued by the related authority to shut down such businesses for the time being, such order should stringently be circulated among the stakeholders including the business operators.
During this ongoing pandemic, e-commerce businesses worldwide are considered to be rather an important way forward, if not the only way. Assuring minimum human interaction, the online delivery services have certainly eased up the shopping process, among others. In our country however, with this unwelcomed and arbitrary use of power by the police, the government rather than supporting and motivating the e-commerce businesses in this time of desperation seems to be willing to hold back their operation. Other than avoiding such arbitrary use of power against such thriving e-commerce businesses, the government should frame rules to regulate them and ensure that their service follows health protocols as well. It is high time that the government expedite the making of the E-commerce Act and corresponding laws.
Meanwhile, it is essential that everyone including the police, authority, civilians and entrepreneurs operate within the spirit of law, especially in these trying times.