All 21 e-commerce sites shall face Government Probe on FDI Issues
On a petition filed by the country's brick-and-mortar retailers through the All-India Footwear Manufacturers and Retailers Association (AIFMRA), the Delhi High Court on Thursday asked the government not to pick and choose but probe all 21 e-commerce players.
Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw told the Centre, Delhi Government, RBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to file counter affidavits within four weeks "detailing the steps already taken, so that if any need for further directions is felt, the same can be issued".
The court noted in its order that the respondents (Centre, Delhi government, RBI and ED) "state that out of the 21 entities (ecommerce sites) with respect to which averments have been made in the petition, six are being investigated against and a decision has also been taken to investigate other entities as well..."
"It is stated that all this is taking time and owing thereto, the counter affidavits have not been filed," it said, adding "it is deemed expedient that even if investigations are not complete, a counter affidavit be filed detailing the steps already taken so that if any need for further directions is felt, the same can be issued".
The order came on the plea of an association of footwear makers and retailers contending that e-commerce sites were violating foreign direct investment (FDI) policy by retailing goods through the internet.
The association also sought an interim order, but the court refused saying "since only four weeks have been given, it is deemed appropriate to await the counter affidavits".
The petitioner contended that though FDI is prohibited in retail, "entities retailing goods through the internet are not being restrained from accepting foreign investment".
It had also claimed before the court that the e-commerce sites were being treated as retailers for the purpose of tax.
The court on the last date of hearing had observed that if the central and state governments were not treating e-commerce sites as retailers for FDI purposes, they cannot be treated as retailers for taxation purposes.
It was of the "prima facie" view that if governments were treating transactions by e-commerce sites as retail sale for tax purposes, how can they say these firms were not retailers for receiving FDI.