Lockdown: Mobile devices firms urge govt to lift sales restrictions


PTI, Apr 24, 2020, 9:12 AM IST

New Delhi: Urging the government to include mobile devices under the essential services category, handset firms on Thursday, April 23 said many frontline workers, patients, and other vulnerable groups are facing a tough time during the coronavirus lockdown due to non-availability of the devices.

The India Cellular and Electronics Association (ICEA), whose members include firms like Apple, Foxconn, Wistron, Flextronics, Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo, and Lava, said mobile phones are at the heart of the digital ecosystem and their non-availability can be life-threatening.

“Senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions are most susceptible to COVID-19. In such cases, the fatality rate is upwards of 10 percent. The disease is such that all times, the patients need to fend for themselves from the time they communicate with municipal authorities regarding symptoms to testing and treatment,” ICEA Chairman Pankaj Mohindroo said in a letter to IT Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney.

ICEA said this can be a life-threatening situation and more than 10 crore senior citizens at the bottom of the pyramid do not have access to even feature phones and are being denied access.

The government has allowed operations of telecom, internet, broadcast, and IT services but not mobile devices that are pivotal to accessing all these services.

“Unfortunately, and very tragically, we are facing grave life-threatening situations wherein our frontline responders and patients are facing challenges because of the non-availability of mobile phones and other consumer premise equipment,” Mohindroo said.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT has recommended to the Home Ministry to include mobile devices, including laptops, in the list of essential goods.

This will enable e-commerce companies to start selling mobile devices and gradually stores across the country can be also opened up in areas where coronavirus cases are under control.

According to industry estimates, around 10 crore mobile phones at present are likely to have become non-functional because of defects that may be beyond repair.

Oppo India recently said it received over 7 lakh queries on its ‘Ollie’ chatbot for resolving handset related problems in March. According to after-sales services firm OnsiteGo, screen damage accounts for 71 percent of mobile phones problems.

Mohindroo said mobile phones and devices are mission-critical to the functioning of government officials, hospitals, doctors, police, civil defence, disaster management personnel and officials ensuring provision of utilities such as electricity, water, sanitation and running municipal bodies.

The industry body said that the non-availability of their communication link due to temporary or permanent breakdown can have debilitating impact which is endangering lives.

The government’s Aarogya Setu app to help contain coronavirus is running in over 6 crore smartphones.

“Citizens who want to upgrade from feature phones to smartphones are being deprived of Aarogya Setu. We estimate that this runs into at least 10 million (1 crore) citizens already,” Mohindroo said.

Coronavirus cases in India have gone from three in the beginning of March to over 20,500.

ICEA said that even for ordinary citizens and office goers, the ability to work from home and isolate from each other necessarily requires lakhs of employees to use such mobile phones and devices.

The industry body has demanded that sales of mobile phones and devices through physical and e-commerce platforms that are allowed to deliver essential goods should be allowed.

“Telecom services retail stores numbering more than 10-15 lakh are already open rightly, to provide uninterrupted mobile services and recharge to citizens as essential services. Most of the mobile phone selling stores are also selling these services and are only a small subset of 2.5 lakh of this ecosystem. Therefore, we should not deprive the traders of their livelihood and citizens the opportunity to buy and upgrade,” Mohindroo said.

ICEA has also approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the request.

Mobile phone companies at present only have room for addressing export requirements, which account for around 12 percent 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 was later further extended to May 3 in wake of rising coronavirus cases.

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