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April 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.    Wishing You All a Happy New Year.       April 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:January' 2018


Digital instruments must
benefit all


At long last, the m u c h - a w a i t e d draft e-commerce policy was released on February 23, 2019, days ahead of the announcement of the polls. At a time when the big retail giants like Amazon/Flikpart keep watching Indian markets with mouth-watering expectations, the 42-page policy draft flagrantly tightened regulations, over and above the ones it placed on digital payment and social media to parade its control of the country’s emerging digital ecosystem.

Flagging off the much-touted mantra that “data are the new oil”, the government ‘s ecommerce policy draft declared with justifiable glee in deference to the Swadeshi tech lobby, that “just like oil or any other natural resource, it is important to protect data”.

As the implications of the new draft began to kick in, India’s jumbo business magnate Mukesh Ambaniowned Reliance swiftly seized time by forelock by announcing a new e-commerce platform to what it called to ”enrich” millions of small shopkeepers. It unveiled plans for investing in five tech companies, which specialize in services ranging from logistics to voice technology and which all partake of the group’ “digital initiative”. Reliance Retail, with 10,000 stores panIndia, has been ranked the fifth fastest emerging retail company in the world by Deloitte!

India’s jumbo business magnate Mukesh Ambaniowned Reliance swiftly seized time by forelock by announcing a new ecommerce platform to what it called to ”enrich” millions of small shopkeepers.

No sooner the draft ecommerce policy came to light, than the Trump Administration had declared that India would no longer be eligible for the U.S Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) that accords duty-free access to the lucrative U.S markets for domestic exporters to penetrate and profit by.

This unilateral reprisal from the U.S follows the systematic tightening of digital regulations by India that range from compelling global payments firms to store data locally, draft laws to compel social media companies to break encryption and ushering in ecommerce laws that made the retail giants such as Amazon and Walmart to restructure their operations to unveil policies slapping greater privacy safeguards.
A palpable and perspicuous worry is that by such tightening of digital eco-system, India does not foster instruments of state surveillance a la the Middle Kingdom, nor private monopolies such as the United States.
Considering the stark fact that Mukesh Ambanipromoted Jio telecom network having bagged over 200 million subscribers in just two years by unobtrusively but decisively inflicting a mortal blow to competition in the market place and now into the new digital initiative of investing in five tech companies, the level playing field for domestic and foreign firms does not turn propitious to one particular domestic private company at the cost of competition and to the deprivation of benefits to legions of consumers who usually lap up discounts and cheaper products with immense satisfaction!

The feisty Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, citing the policy changes that made foreign financial services firm such as MasterCard, Visa and American Express that fell in line with the new-fangled rules requiring them to desist from storing Indian user data offshore, gloated in November last thus: “Today Visa and MasterCard are losing market share in India to indigenously developed payment system of UPI and Rupay card whose share has reached 65 per cent the payments done through debit and credit cards”.

While this is welcome from the standpoint of domestic fintech firms to take root and emerge robust, any attempt to make foreign firms feel strangled by regulations would discourage their commitment to invest here and stay invested with the attendant benefits of best managerial practices and modern technology in making life easier for legions of aspiring Indians who seek to get a slice of decent living.

So whichever party or combination of parties assumes office after the electoral battle is over, the onus is on it to ensure that the fruits of technology reach all in a fair and equitable fashion and that the providers, both indigenous and the foreign, do not feel discriminated in the fair game and the uneven level playing fields, policy wonks plaintively but plausibly put it.