Non-essentials can wait
While the flip-flop on e-commerce seems arbitrary, caution is best during a pandemic
- The Centre’s last-minute reversal of its decision to allow e-commerce companies to resume deliveries of ‘non-essential items’, as part of an easing of the lockdown curbs, is welcome given that India is still not out of the woods in its pandemic fight.
- The movement of vehicles used by e-commerce operators for transporting non-essentials be ‘excluded’ from the list of additional activities that would be allowed from April 20 to mitigate public hardship.
- The online purchase of a product and its doorstep delivery by an e-commerce firm minimises human interaction to a negligible level unlike a purchase in a store, the fact that the lockdown is aimed at restricting movement to the barest minimum in order to break the chain of transmission necessitates limiting exemptions.
- And with non-essential items ranging from apparel to books to electronics and home appliances constituting the bulk of the listings on e-commerce sites, every additional product category would involve that many more people getting activated along the supply chain — from a producer or supplier to the transport operators and additional delivery persons.
- Among the sectors that can resume are agricultural and horticultural activities, banking, cargo transportation, construction, and manufacturing of specified goods including packaging material.
- Interestingly, while self-employed tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters have been allowed to resume work, they would be unable to ply their trades if their customers are unable to furnish the relevant material at the work site because the shops and e-commerce firms selling these ‘non-essential’ goods are yet to resume operations.
- Still, protecting lives must ultimately be prioritised over allowing commercial activity even when the line between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ purchases remains a blur.