Online sales jump as third wave arrives; three arrests in ‘Bulli Bai’ case

India’s Covid count has surged over the past fortnight and states have responded with night curfews and other restrictions. Now, executives of various companies that make essential goods tell us their online sales have increased 10-15% over the past seven days as people remain indoors.Also in this letter:

  • Three arrests in three days over Bulli Bai app
  • Will complete Google probe in 60 days, CCI tells court
  • Delhi High Court halts Amazon, Future arbitration

Sale of essentials surges online as third wave takes hold

As the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic gathers steam, online sales of daily essentials— including packaged foods, soaps and hygiene products—has surged over the past seven days.What are people buying? There has been a 10-15% increase across categories, while online sales have doubled for items such as chocolates and beverages, executives told us.

The demand for hygiene products such as handwashes, sanitisers, face masks, disinfectant sprays and immunity boosters have also shot up again, online retailers said.

In their words: Mayank Shah, senior category head at Parle Products, said, “Sales from ecommerce platforms have increased about 15% week-on-week. We expect this momentum to continue till the third wave is on.”

Anil Chugh, president-consumer care business at Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting, which makes Santoor soap and Maxkleen household disinfectants, said, “Ecommerce channels for our categories are growing ahead of general trade as consumers continue to be cautious and avoid unnecessary visits to the retailer.”

A spokesperson for online grocery platform Blinkit said, “Sales of packaged food and hygiene products have more than doubled over the last week. In particular, sales of N95 face masks have gone up five times during the last week.”

Roll with the punches: Executives said they were both increasing supplies and launching consumer promotions for ecommerce platforms in response to the surge in demand.

Companies that had eased up on supplying sanitisers and other hygiene products after the second wave subsided said they were now ramping up supplies once again.

A spokesperson for ecommerce platform Amazon India said: “With lakhs of sellers and associates, we continue to serve customers while following stringent safety measures and government guidelines.”


3 arrests in 3 days over Bulli Bai app; Sulli Deals case gathers dust

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The Mumbai cyber police made a third arrest in the ‘Bulli Bai’ app case on Wednesday morning. Mayank Rawal, a 21-year-old student, was arrested in Uttarakhand. Meanwhile, the six-month-old Sulli Deals case continues to gather dust.

Rawal is the second person arrested from Uttarakhand in the Bulli Bai case. On Monday, the Mumbai police had arrested 18-year-old Shweta Singh from the state. The following day they arrested Vishal Kumar Jha, a 21-year-old student from Bengaluru.

The police have said that Singh seemed to be the mastermind behind the crime. She allegedly uploaded pictures of Muslim women on the app, hosted on GitHub, using three different accounts.

Govt blocks Telegram channel: Meanwhile, the government has blocked a Telegram channel that allegedly targeted Hindu women by circulating obscene photos and abusing them online, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology blocked the channel after news about it went viral on Twitter. Vaishnaw added that the government was cooperating with state police officials on the matter.

Timeline of Sulli Deals, Bulli Bai cases: News about the original Sulli Deals incident broke in early July last year, sparking widespread outrage on social media. But six months later, there has been no progress on the case. The Bulli Bai case, on the other hand, has now seen three arrests in three days.

Here’s a timeline of both incidents:

July 4, 2021: Several Twitter accounts posted screenshots from an application titled ‘Sulli Deals’, which was sharing photos and social media handles of more than 80 Muslim women in India. The application was presented as an auction in which users could “claim a Sulli” (a derogatory term for Muslim women), as the “deal of the day”.

July 5: Erica Brescia, GitHub’s chief operating officer, posted on Twitter that the app had been removed.

July 8: The National Commission for Women, citing a media report, asked the Delhi Police to file FIRs in the case. The police registered an FIR the same day. The Delhi Commission for Women also issued notice to the Delhi Police and asked for a detailed action-taken report.

October 29: The Internet Freedom Foundation wrote to the Delhi Police, saying that no arrests had been made more than 110 days since the incident came to light and that there were “no clear reasons which can explain this lack of progress”. IFF asked the Delhi Police to issue a progress report of the investigation so far.

There has been no progress on the investigation to date.

January 1, 2022: Six months after the Sulli Deals incident, the photographs of about 100 Muslim women were again listed for “auction” on a GitHub app, this time called ‘Bulli Bai’.

January 3: Two FIRs were registered in Mumbai and Delhi against unknown persons. The same day, the Mumbai Police made their first arrest—that of 21-year-old Jha from Bengaluru.

January 4: The Mumbai Police arrested 18-year-old Shweta Singh from Uttarakhand and said that she seemed to have masterminded the crime.

January 5: The Mumbai Police arrested Mayank Rawal, a 21-year-old student, from Uttarakhand.

Tweet of the day


Will complete Google probe in 60 days, CCI tells K’taka High Court

Google Play Store

India’s competition watchdog told the Karnataka High Court on Wednesday that it would complete an ongoing investigation into Google’s updated Play Store policy in 60 days.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) was responding to a petition Google had filed on December 27, seeking more time to respond to CCI’s questions in relation to the probe.

Additional Solicitor General N Venkataraman, who appeared on behalf of CCI, told the court that Google should cooperate with its investigating arm in order to ensure that the probe is completed within the stipulated time.

Google for its part said it had furnished over 9,000 pages of documents already and would continue to cooperate with the investigation.

But it asked the court to set aside an interim plea filed by the Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF), an industry body, seeking relief from the Play Store billing policy.

Google argued that this was unnecessary as it had pushed the date for implementing its updated Play Store policy to October 31.

Under the tech giant’s new payments policy, certain categories of apps will be restricted to using Google’s own billing system to accept payments from users, for which the company would charge a hefty commission. Many app developers and startups have protested Google’s move.

We reported on December 22 that the CCI had begun in-person depositions from several tech startups, including edtech unicorn Unacademy, dating apps TrulyMadly and Tinder, matrimony sites such as Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony, as well as a few OTT platforms and online gaming ventures.


Delhi HC halts Amazon, Future arbitration

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The Delhi High Court has halted arbitration proceedings between Future Group and Amazon in Singapore, in light of the fact that the Competition Commission of India (CCI) recently suspended a 2019 deal between the two sides.

Legal standing: The long-running dispute is being heard by a Singapore arbitration panel, but the so-called “seat of the arbitration” is New Delhi, meaning proceedings are governed by Indian law.

Blow for Amazon: The decision is a setback for the US-based ecommerce giant, which had successfully used the terms of its 2019 investment in a Future Group subsidiary to block the Indian company’s attempt to sell retail assets to Reliance.

But after the CCI suspended the 2019 deal last month, citing suppression of information by Amazon while seeking clearances, Future argued there was no legal basis for the arbitration between the two sides to continue in Singapore.

A two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice DN Patel of the Delhi High Court agreed with Future’s arguments, putting the arbitration proceedings on hold. If the proceedings are not halted, Justice Patel said it would cause an “irreparable loss” to Future.

“We hereby stay further proceedings of the arbitral tribunal till the next date of hearing,” said Patel, adding the court will hear the case next on Feb. 1.

Appeals incoming: A source familiar with the case told Reuters that Amazon was likely to legally challenge the Delhi High Court’s decision. It has previously said it will also challenge the CCI’s suspension of the 2019 deal.


ETtech Done Deals

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■ IPO-bound Delhivery has made an investment in Falcon Autotech, a Noida-based maker of warehousing automation products. The investment is likely in the range of $20-30 million, as per sources close to the deal.

Udaan, a B2B ecommerce startup, has closed a $200 million debt financing round by issuing convertible notes to five new investors, according to an internal company note sent by CFO Aditya Pande.

Zupee, an online real-money gaming platform, has raised $72 million from Mumbai-based Nepean Capital as part of a larger funding round. The deal pegs the company’s valuation at $600 million.

Freecultr, a direct-to-consumer apparel brand, has raised $5 million in a funding round led by Sixth Sense Ventures, amid plans to make a comeback into a bustling consumer brands sector.

■ The Bombay Shaving Company has raised Rs 160 crore in a Series C funding round led by Malabar Investments. It plans to raise Rs 300 crore more in what would be its last fundraising before a planned initial public offering.


More than third of Urban Indians oppose crypto law: YouGov

crypto tax

More than a third of India’s urban dwellers oppose the government’s plan to regulate cryptocurrencies, according to a survey by market researcher YouGov.

Tell me more: Those opposed to regulation cited concerns ranging from heavy taxation to a potential outright ban on non-exchange-traded tokens, the London-based firm said. More than half of people who invest in crypto are against regulation.

Also read: Defining moments in India’s crypto saga in 2021

Uncertainty: The country’s crypto industry is anxiously awaiting details of a proposed bill that could go as far as banning off-exchange cryptocurrencies. Any draconian clampdown could have far-reaching implications, as India has the second-fastest rate of crypto adoption behind Vietnam, according to Chainalysis.

By the numbers: Out of 1,225 respondents in the YouGov survey, 36% don’t want crypto tokens to be regulated, compared with 52% of those who own cryptocurrency. More than half of crypto investors said they’ll hold off on buying or selling until markets stabilise.


Other Top Stories By Our Reporters

Fractal AI turns unicorn with $360 million funding from TPG: The transaction is a mix of primary investment and secondary share purchase from funds advised by Apax Partners. The British PE firm will remain a majority shareholder in Fractal AI. (read more)

Algonomy acquires Sri Lanka’s Linear Squared: The acquisition will allow Algonomy to meet its objective of quickly and efficiently scaling up its AI technology operations by setting up an AI and machine learning engineering centre in Sri Lanka. (read more)

Ikonz sets eyes on a big slice of Indian NFTs: Actor investor Rana Daggubati and Anthill Ventures founder Prasad Vanga have backed Indian-American entrepreneur Abinav Varma Kalidindi’s Indian metaverse company, Ikonz. (read more)


Global Picks We Are Reading

■ IBM tries to sell Watson Health again (Axios)
■ Electric Vehicles and the auto industry pie (Bloomberg)
■ KFC to soon serve up Beyond Meat chicken (Vox)

Today’s ETtech Morning Dispatch was curated by Zaheer Merchant in Mumbai. Graphics and illustrations by Rahul Awasthi.


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