The commerce ministry will proceed with the proposed e-commerce policy without waiting for the personal data protection bill to be passed in Parliament, a top ministry official said.
The policy will also steer clear of the controversial data localization rules, as these will be separately handled by the Reserve Bank of India and the bill pending before the Parliament.
An earlier version of the draft e-commerce policy leaked in 2018, which had proposed to include data rules, was junked after stiff opposition from the industry. A recent version accessed by Mint in March this year showed the commerce ministry intends to bring in regulations that would prevent the formation of digital monopolies and facilitate e-commerce exports.
The latest version is expected to focus on regulatory aspects of e-commerce, including foreign direct investment policy and a possible local regulator for the sector, and may also clarify India’s international position on e-commerce negotiations.
“We are not waiting for the data protection bill to be passed, but data issues will be handled by the proposed law. We will just mention that e-commerce companies need to adhere to the data protection law as well as data localization regulations by the Reserve Bank of India,” the official cited above said on the condition of anonymity.
A query sent to the commerce ministry remained unanswered till press time.
The proposed e-commerce policy is different from the draft rules for e-commerce marketplaces recently notified by the consumer affairs ministry under consumer protection laws. These rules came after small businesses complained that online marketplaces were misusing market dominance and resorting to deep discounting. Among others, the rules propose to limit so-called ‘flash sales’ of goods and services by e-commerce companies by proposing to ban back-to-back sales that limit customer choice, increase prices and prevent a level playing field. Trade minister Piyush Goyal who is also in charge of the consumer affairs ministry had said last month that the e-commerce policy will be unveiled only after the draft e-commerce rules are finalized.
A joint parliamentary committee is currently studying the proposed personal data protection bill. Five new members recently joined the committee after several previous members, including chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi, left to join the Union cabinet.
A 10-member expert group headed by former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna, which submitted the draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, recommended setting up a data protection authority and placing restrictions on cross-border data flows. The bill mandates storing one serving copy of all personal data within India. It empowers the central government to classify any sensitive personal data as critical personal data and mandates its storage and processing exclusively in India.
Last month, the commerce ministry told Parliament that the government has prepared a draft national e-commerce policy and circulated it for inter-ministerial consultation.
“A draft of national e-commerce policy has been prepared after detailed public consultations. Valuable suggestions have been received from many stakeholders. Inter-ministerial consultations are being held to finalize the national e-commerce policy,” junior commerce minister Som Parkash said in Rajya Sabha, while replying to a question. Live Mint