Government to draft new regulations to monitor booming e-commerce sector

With e-commerce booming during the lockdown, there is an urgent need to introduce proper standards to protect consumers, officials say.

The government is readying a draft of new regulations to monitor the rapidly growing e-commerce sector. The announcement was made during the budget which was presented to the Parliament by Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada on Thursday.

According to the Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection, the draft will cover issues such as registration procedure, agreement of e-commerce firms with companies, renewal, damages and compensation, return and refund, among others.

Netra Prasad Subedi, director general at the department said that with e-commerce booming during the lockdown, there is an urgent need to introduce proper standards to protect consumers.

The strategy covers the e-commerce sector and includes different government bodies to prepare and maintain law. The strategy is an overall guideline and a new draft is being prepared based on a national strategy for e-commerce for immediate implementation, he added.

Once the draft is ready, the department will submit it to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies and it will be implemented immediately.

The government-owned Food Management and Trade Company also started online food delivery service after the lockdown. According to Subedi, the company plans to expand delivery options to outside the Valley.

Proprietors of online businesses said that more people were going online to buy essentials as most stores across the country have been shut down to check the spread of the coronavirus.

From delivering groceries to medicine, online businesses have been doing brisk business during the lockdown. The government has partially relaxed lockdown measures for firms delivering goods to customers.

Sagar Dev Bhatta, co-founder of Mero Kirana said that a group of e-commerce traders were providing input on the department’s draft of upcoming regulations. He highlighted several issues that e-commerce firms have to deal with such due to a lack of clear regulation such as insurance protection for delivery staff, who should bear the liability of damaged goods, charges and billing, return and refund issues.

He said that e-commerce firms are already treated as trading entities and that the government should recognise the firms as a legitimate industry and draft regulations accordingly.

Bhatta said that online demand for grocery items and daily essentials goods have increased by 300-400 percent due to the lockdown as people prefer to stay home instead of doing their shopping at a physical retail store.

Prem Lal Maharjan, president of National Consumer Forum said that in most countries, online or home delivery services are governed by the Postal Service Act and regulated according to it. But in Nepal, this is not the case. Firms have operated home delivery services for many years and due to a lack of clear regulation, consumers who buy goods online are regularly cheated. E-commerce firms simply say that they are not liable to consumers for delivering damaged or incorrect goods.

He said that e-commerce firms should be regulated under a similar Postal Service Act as e-commerce firms were delivering vital goods and consumers should be protected.

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