Open Network for Digital Commerce: ONDC will provide a level playing field for merchants, says Piyush Goyal

The Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) will help “democratize e-commerce” in India so that millions of small, family-owned shops and retailers don’t die out like in the western world, but have an equal chance to grow their businesses through the use of digital technologies, Trade and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said on Friday.

Without an open platform like the ONDC, the existence of small retailers could be at risk with the growing influence of large e-commerce companies, which engage in several irregular practices and are under investigation by the Enforcement Branch, Goyal said. He did not name any players.

The government launched the pilot phase of ONDC, an UPI-type protocol, in Delhi, Bangalore, Bhopal, Coimbatore and Shillong at the end of April. From around 150 sellers during the deployment of the pilot project, the ONDC aims to integrate around 30 million sellers in 100 cities in six months.

While highlighting the plight of small retailers in some developed countries, Goyal said, “We don’t want this to happen in India. We want them (small retailers) to have the opportunity to use technology to serve our consumers, we want them to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the digital world, we want their data to be protected.

ONDC usually offers a set of protocols and a technology-based solution that allows everyone to trade on a common platform. Goyal said certain sellers are preferred over others in the online marketplaces of major e-commerce players. This results in the exploitation of many vendors. The ONDC structure however will not have any favourites, it will provide equal opportunities to all, he asserted.

In December 2020, the Department of Trade and Industry wrote to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and ED to take “necessary action” on allegations made by a key trader body against Amazon, Flipkart and Walmart regarding violations of FDI and other relevant rules. For their part, e-commerce players have denied the accusations and maintained that they follow the applicable rules.

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