The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has suggested allowing sale of mobile phones, laptops, desktops, storage devices and other related products by including them in the "essential goods" category, according to a source. Electronics and IT Secretary Ajay Sawhney on April 20 wrote to his counterpart in the Home Ministry Ajay Kumar Bhalla to include mobile devices in the essential goods category and also allow manufacturing of IT hardware components as they are required to support work from home, the source said.
Including mobile phones in the essential category will allow e-commerce companies as well as retail stores to sell such devices during the lockdown.
MeitY secretary has written to the Home secretary "for including electronic products needed from home and online learning namely mobile phones and related components, desktops, laptops, tablets, servers, storage devices, enterprise networking equipment in essential goods category", the source told PTI.
Around 97 per cent of broadband connections in the country is accessed through mobile devices, according to data published by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
Industry body India Cellular and Electronics Association (ICEA) has approached MeitY and the Home Ministry to allow sales and repair of mobile devices as it is vital to support work from home, connectivity, emergency services, coronavirus patient services etc during the lockdown.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the ICEA said that more than 20 crore citizens at the bottom of the pyramid are devoid of access to mobile handsets required for accessing communication at the time of need.
According to the industry body whose members include Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, Huawei, Lava International, etc, there are over 85 crore active mobile phone users in the country and about 30 crore citizens still do not have access to handsets of any sort.
ICEA Chairman Pankaj Mohindroo in a letter to the PM said, "Currently, due to the desperate situation at hand many first-time users who want a Rs 600-700 feature phone to keep in touch with their family, friends and near and dear ones have been deprived of this choice since March 24, 2020.
"Citizens also urgently want to buy entry level smartphones for their personal needs like education of children and business needs too."
The government has allowed opening of shops selling mobile recharge coupons and repair of mobile devices but their sales.
"Rightly, mobile recharge services are already permitted under the essential services category/public utility allowing 10-15 lakhs shops to run and operate across the country. Mobile phone shops which number only 2.5 lacs are just a sub set of these," Mohindroo said requesting for permission to include mobile devices in the essential goods category.
Mobile phone companies at present only have room for addressing export requirements which account for around 12 per cent of total production.
In 2019-20, mobile phone players in India exported devices worth about Rs 25,000 crore and the total production is estimated to have crossed Rs 2 lakh crore now.
The mobile phone industry is estimated to have faced losses of around Rs 15,000 crore during the 21-day lockdown which started on March 24.
The lockdown has been further extended to May 3 in wake of rising coronavirus cases in the country.