Has the Union government gone soft on app companies which it banned in November 2020 for engaging in activities “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity” of India?
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has not lifted the ban on 220 companies which it targeted after Chinese troops killed 20 Indian soldiers on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh in June 2020. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Bengaluru South Member of Parliament, Tejasvi Surya, however, seems to have taken the ban lightly.
On 12 May, the MP put out a public tweet, appreciating Lalamove US, whose Indian arm Lalamove India was banned by the Indian government in November 2020. According to Surya's tweet, Lalamove US has donated a consignment of 25 oxygen concentrators to Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Bengaluru’s municipal corporation, and he thanked them for the gesture.
Wishing Away the Ban?
The MP tweeted in gratitude,
"“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to @lalamoveUs for supplying 25 Oxygen Concentrators for Bengaluru Citizens in these challenging times”." - Tejasvi Surya
He further wrote, “I also thank CEO of Lalamove Global, Mr Paul Loo in joining forces with us in the #FIghtAgainstCOVID”. The MP also tagged Akshya Gupta, Lalamove-India’s government and industries relations officer, in charge of corporate affairs and public policy. The tweet was retweeted 1,352 times and was liked by 8,890 users.
Currently, the Lalamove websites and apps cannot be accessed in India. In 2020, the company was operational in 352 Chinese cities.
As per Gupta’s LinkedIn profile, he initiates and maintains, “strategic relationships with key government officials, parliamentarians and other relevant stakeholders to meet the objectives of” Lalamove India. According to the profile, Gupta also monitors “national and state policy, regulatory developments, emerging trends, and other political or public issues with potential business impacts”. In short, Gupta’s profile suggests that he is a risk manager.
Has the Hong Kong headquartered company, which has an office in Bengaluru, reached out to MP Tejasvi Surya to rebuild its severed ties with the Indian market? Tejasvi Surya’s office did not wish to clarify, when contacted by The Quint. The report will be updated if and when they answer our queries.
Lalamove’s Chinese Roots
Lalamove is a logistics app company that was founded in 2013 by Shing Chow in Hong Kong. The app was better known as EasyVan in China.
The company entered the Indian market in 2018. It started its logistics operations here in 2019. Their app helps in moving consignments of client companies. Lalamove operates trucks, vans and cars globally, all engaged in consignment delivery.
The Lalamove apps – Lalamove-on and Lalamove-driver – were banned along with 42 other apps in November 2020 under section 69A of the Indian IT Act and Rules because the Union government had found these apps to have “engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.
Earlier, on 29 June, the IT ministry had banned 59 apps including TikTok and UC Browser citing the above reason. Then, on 2 September, another 118 apps including the popular gaming app PUBG, were also banned.
Sorry, No Loophole in the Apps Ban
As Tejasvi Surya's party, the BJP, is in power at the Centre and Karnataka. Does his open celebration of relief measures from a banned app’s global wing indicate a Union policy shift?
A source in the BJP’s Karnataka wing said, “The ban on these foreign companies was important for the Union government. Each state government is expected to follow the instruction of the Centre. Karnataka government has been supportive of the ban”.
In January this year, the Union government had reviewed and extended its ban on 59 apps including Alibaba’s UC Browser and ByteDance’s video sharing app TikTok. This was based on responses the companies had filed to queries sent MEITY. The IT ministry had asked the companies to clarify whether they censored content, lobbied with influencers or worked on behalf of foreign governments.
In media reports published earlier, the GOI had indicated that the ban is of permanent nature.
If the Union government were to review the ban, it will have to seek responses from the app companies, including Lalamove, again. Going by the last such review, the process takes months to complete, during which time the apps will continue to be dysfunctional in the Indian market.
Meanwhile, Tejasvi Surya’s open endorsement of the app has come at a time when the MP is already mired in controversy.
On 4 May, the MP had accused Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike officials of bulk blocking hospital beds and selling them at inflated fees to COVID-19 patients.
The bed-scam expose, however, took a communal turn when the MP who visited a Bengaluru South COVID-19 war room, read out 16 names of Muslim contractual employees. After this , the employees were sacked without cause by BBMP, but were later reinstated as Bengaluru police was not able to prove their involvement in the scam.
While Tejasvi Surya has apologised to war room staff, the MP’s office has been maintaining, “there’s nothing to apologise for”.
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