Bringing e-commerce under RTI


Author: Bharat Jhunjhunwala
Due to the closure of markets during the Corona period, there has been a huge expansion of e-commerce. The consumer is relieved. Necessary goods are being delivered at home. Consumer choice has also increased a lot. Sometime back I needed a book, which was not available in India. I placed an order on an international e-commerce portal and it reached my home after 15 days. Price comparison is also made easy. For example, if you want to buy mustard oil, then you can compare the price by visiting three e-portals. In view of these features, it is necessary and beneficial to adopt e-commerce. But at the same time, it is equally important to remove the problems that are arising.


american model right
E-commerce companies often want to sell more of their own goods made by another company. For example, suppose a certain e-portal, named ‘Kakhg’, has set up a factory to make mustard oil. When a visitor searches for mustard oil on their portal, their own company’s mustard oil can be shown first by the portal as the best. By doing so, the e-portal lags other manufacturers and serves substandard goods to the consumer. You will notice that the drivers of Ola or Uber tell that more work is given by the company to their own vehicles. The vehicles which have been taken on contract from others are given less work in comparison. Similar work is done by these e-portals in a hidden way. They have formed ‘shell’ companies. You will feel that you are ordering from an independent manufacturer. But that shell company will transfer that order back to its own KKG company. For example, traders often take orders in the name of their siblings. In this direction, the European Union has made a law that the e-portal will have to display its own goods and the goods of others equally. The US has proposed that it will be prohibited for e-portal to form its own company. No e-portal can create its own company. We should also adopt the American resolution.

Related to this is the issue of self-reliant India. The government wants more domestic goods to be sold, but e-portals often show more foreign goods. Therefore, the Government of India has proposed that while displaying foreign goods, the portal will have to simultaneously display the goods made in the country. This step of the government is in the right direction. The user is manipulated through the e-portal. For example, by marking the goods you have searched in the past, e-portals specially serve you those goods, so that you become interested in buying them, even if you do not need them now. This is called customization. Like you want to buy a new mobile phone. You searched, but you didn’t have money to buy. In such a situation, the e-portal will show you the same mobile phone again and again. If you slip even for a moment, you will place the order, even if you do not have the power to pay. You will unintentionally get caught in the maze of e-portals. In this sequence, the goods are sold through the e-portal without even telling the expiry date of the goods. If mustard oil is expiring in 2 months, then you will know this thing only after delivery. Therefore, it should also be made mandatory to mention the expiry date. The rules proposed by the government for these problems are in the right direction and they must be implemented. But it is insufficient in view of the problems.

Large e-portals should, in effect, be brought under the Right to Information Act. At present, the Right to Information is mainly applicable to government undertakings. But where private companies are working by contracting with the government in infrastructure etc., they have been included in the right to information. For example, Right to Information has been implemented on hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand. Similarly, the government should bring e-portal under Right to Information. Then the public would be able to ask him that if he showed the company to sell mustard oil at Rs 300 per kg, then at what price he had bought mustard oil from other vendors and at what price it is being sold, as this information becomes available. The rigging of e-portals will be curbed. Surely e-portals will flaunt this proposal. But the purpose of the government is public interest. Giving the e-portal the right to keep information confidential will benefit the e-portal, it will expand. By bringing the e-portal under the Right to Information, its rigging will be stopped and it will be in public interest. In my estimation, the public interest will be served more by bringing in Right to Information.

set number of customers
Along with this, the government should also fix the maximum number of customers to be added through any e-portal. For example, if 100 million people in the country buy goods on e-portals, then the government can make rules that no e-portal can add more than 30 million customers. The e-portal with the number of customers more than this should be divided into two-three parts. By doing this, India’s own small e-portals will get an opportunity to grow and their mutual competition will automatically curb the rigging of all e-portals.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the author.

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