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Open Network for Digital Commerce: ONDC to offer level-playing field to traders, says Piyush Goyal

The Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) will help “democratise e-commerce” in India so that millions of small mom-and-pop stores and retailers do not get extinguished like in the western world but get an equal opportunity to grow their businesses through the use of digital technologies, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said on Friday.

Without an open platform like the ONDC, the existence of small retailers could be in danger with the growing influence of large e-commerce companies, which are indulging in several irregular practices and are under investigations by the Directorate of Enforcement, Goyal said. He didn’t name any player.

The government, in late April, launched the pilot phase of the ONDC, a UPI-type protocol, in Delhi, Bangalore, Bhopal, Coimbatore and Shillong. From just about 150 sellers during the rollout of the pilot project, the ONDC is aiming to onboard about 30 million sellers spread across 100 cities in six months.

While highlighting the plight of small retailers in certain developed countries, Goyal said: “We do not want that to happen in India. We want them (small retailers) to get an opportunity to use technology to serve our consumers, we want them to get an equal opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the digital world, we want their data to be protected.”

ONDC typically offers a set of protocols and a technology-based solution which allows everybody to trade on a common platform. Goyal said certain sellers are preferred over others on the online market-places of the large ecommerce players. This results in the exploitation of many sellers. The ONDC structure, however, will have no favourites, it will offer equal opportunities to all, he asserted.

In December 2020, the commerce and industry ministry had written to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the ED to take “necessary action” on allegations made by a key traders’ body against Amazon, Flipkart and Walmart relating to the violations of FDI and other relevant rules. For their part, the e-commerce players have denied the charges and maintained that they abide by the relevant rules.

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