Sunday, 27 December 2015

E-Tax on E-Commerce

Every time you shop in a large departmental store, mall or a shop belonging to some retailers association, you are made to pay for the polythene shopping bag. You pay as per the size which cost may vary from Rs. 3/- to Rs. 9/-. This rule was made to dissuade people from using polythene bags, encourage recycling, reduce dependence and move towards an environmentally friendly end user packaging regime. This is a user pays model. You may bring in your own shopping bag and save on some money.

Now this rule covers a walk in customer in a shop. What about shoppers in the digital world of E-tailers.

Sometime back I had posted about the new age entrepreneur who made money on the packaging material of the E-tailers. See link

To me the E-tailing packaging is far more serious threat to the environment than the polythene bags of the brick and mortar retailer. In a regular set up, you buy the product, put it in your shopping bag and walk out. This is not the case in E-commerce. Assuming you buy four products and irrespective whether you get free delivery, it is likely that you will be delivered four different packages as the goods will be sourced from four different locations. So what would otherwise be carried in a shopping bag worth Rs. 5/- may see a packaging cost of Rs. 50/- collectively. The customer is not complaining here with the kind of deals going on. He doesn't really care who pays for the packaging or who is paying for the discounts or the delivery.

I recently happened to order some laminated paper posters. I got a discount of 25 % on list price and having crossed a certain threshold with purchase of other products I also got free delivery. Since the posters were sourced from the same seller, I would have expected a single package. But that was not the case. The pictures given below will be proof of the wastage that goes in. Now mind you these posters can be rolled easily and hardly have any weight.

The single rolled up poster and the six foot carton it came in

The other two rolled up posters and their carton with the third poster hanging in the background

The empty space in the carton filled with air pillows
So effectively I got two packages where the cost of packaging and delivery may have possibly exceeded the cost of the posters. FYI each poster cost me Rs. 90/- and three such posters were ordered for a total cost of Rs. 270/- inclusive of delivery.

I understand there is a need to package goods in way so that no damage is caused, but how much of protective packaging is the question. Typically the outer packaging will be a paper carton with the inside filled with bubble wrap or air-pillows. The invoice will be in a polythene bag stuck on the outside with lengths of sticky tape. Effectively there will be more polythene in this than in your regular polythene shopping bag.
Now given this background, I do not see any harm in the government charging an Environment Tax on this business. If there could be a Swacch Bharat cess on services, why can't there be a similar cess on e-tailing. There could be different ways of charging it. It may be charged on per package or a percent of the sale value. It could be a user pays model or the seller pays model or the platform pays model. I would much prefer a user pays model and cess of at least Rs. 5/- per package is not much to ask for. News reports talk of a single E-tailer getting 100,000 orders in a day. Assuming there are a 100,000 packages delivered per day across the country (and growing), Rs. 18.25 crore per year (@ Rs. 5/- per package) is not a bad collection to start with.

This needs a serious thought by the government.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Light House at Fort Aguada

The lighthouse at Fort Aguada as most people will associate with is the one built by the Portuguese in the year 1765. This is tall round structure built on the upper fort and closed in the year 1976. Painted white, you can only view it from the outside and remains closed for entry to the general public "by order".
The Old Light House

If one were to look towards the sea on the west, you will see the new lighthouse built by us Indians in the year 1976. All lighthouses are governed by the Lighthouses Act of 1928 and are under the control of the Directorate of Lighthouse and lightship (more on this later) and so is this one. Architecturally it has no value and is a tall square structure with light unit on top. As I was viewing it from the upper fort, what caught my attention was the presence of civilians atop this government property acting in a very touristy manner posing for selfies. This had to be investigated. If they can be up there, why can't I?
The New Light House inside the Compound

As I exited the fort, I turned to the left where a road was leading to a grey compound about 50 metres away. I strode in that direction and came to a visibly "sarkari" looking property with concrete structures within its high walls and an iron gate for entry. Yes it was the entrance to the lighthouse and the best of all open to viewing by the general public. For the price of a half cup of tea, you could enter the premises and go atop the lighthouse. You can also photograph/videograph for an additional fee. No prohibitions here. Everything official.

The compound looked deserted. Obviously no one seems to be interested in what I would call a fantastic opportunity to go atop a lighthouse. Maybe no one knew. Maybe the tourist guides/operators saw no worthwhile business opportunity in taking their guests to this structure.

As I entered, a lone security guard with a stick approached me. I informed him of my purpose and was immediately taken to the office. The guard called out to someone through an open window. An adjoining door opened and man in a white Tee and khaki trousers walked out. He was the lighthouse keeper or "Light Keeper" in official parlance. Forty Rupees it was for two adults and one camera. Children between the ages 3 to 10 are charged Rs. 3/- by the way. Everything official, tickets issued, no extras. Absolutely polite and helpful gentleman.

Visit Charges at the Entrance

The guard led us to the entrance of the lighthouse. As I said earlier, there were no other souls in this compound. You have to remove your footwear before entering as a signboard announced and then climb approximately 5 stories to reach the top. Now here is a warning. As you reach the last landing level via the stairwell, the final climb is via an iron ladder about 10 feet in height which opens to the top through roughly a 60 cm X 60 cm opening. I had to drop my backpack in order to squeeze through. And mind you there is not enough space to stand there with the light equipment and other gadgetry. You have to then move through a small opening in the wall below the glass windows and stand out in the open area surrounding the beacon. And that’s when you realize the strategic importance of building a fort at that spot.

Light House Specs

Entrance to the Light House
Light House Office Block

The Light of the Light House.

This was my first visit to a lighthouse and it was absolutely worthwhile. Do go there when visiting Goa. There are about 185 lighthouses along the coast of India, and if any of them do allow you entry, don't miss it.