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The Supreme Court has deferred the hearing of the Amazon-Future dispute by nearly two months to 28 June as it attends to more pressing matters amid the raging viral pandemic, two people aware of the matter said.

The top court was scheduled to hear the case between US-based e-commerce giant Amazon and Kishore Biyani’s Future Group over the 24,713 crore deal between Future and Reliance Industries Ltd on Tuesday. “The Supreme Court feels this case be kept on hold until the surge in covid-19 cases is contained. Cases related to oxygen supply to hospitals, provision of covid beds, vaccines and medicines are more urgent," said one of the two people cited above, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity.

The delay may come as a temporary setback for Amazon since it will buy Future Group and RIL two more months to work towards their proposed deal and realign operations, restructure businesses and transition Future Group’s staff and retail stores such as Big Bazaar and fbb. The Supreme Court has so far not stopped the two parties from working towards the deal.

“This may impact Amazon as Future Group’s retail and wholesale stores will now give priority to RIL’s retail orders over Amazon’s orders despite Amazon’s tie-up with Future," one of the two people said.

With over 1,500 Big Bazaar and fbb stores in India, Future Group has the largest offline retail sales network in the country. “The top court wants to focus its attention and resources only to resolve “super-urgent" cases for the time being until the wave of this raging pandemic recedes," the second person said.

According to the people cited above, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) may conduct its own hearing in the meantime and pass the final arbitration award before India’s top court hears the matter. On 5 January, SIAC had formed a panel of top international lawyers to hear the case. “This may be crucial because the contractual agreement between Amazon and Future Group says any dispute between the two parties will be subject to the jurisdiction of SIAC and its decision shall be binding. As per India’s arbitration law, the decision of SIAC has to be considered legally valid and enforceable," said the first person.

If SIAC indeed passes its final judgement before 28 June, Amazon and Future will be able to add SIAC’s order in their affidavits before the apex court, and it will not only be easier for the Supreme Court to prepare its judgement on the case but also bring the long-drawn legal battle to a close.

On 19 April, on a special leave petition filed by Amazon, the apex court stayed all proceedings before Delhi high court, but did not stop RIL and Future from working on the deal.

On 25 October, an emergency award by SIAC had restrained the Reliance-Future deal.

Amazon’s real battle is to gain an edge as a retail e-commerce player in India, and if the RIL-Future deal goes through, it may no longer be able to serve a segment of its customers with the same ease and speed since it will lose the privileged access to Future Group’s Big Bazaar and fbb stores in India.

To be sure, Amazon is separately embarking on a massive expansion plan to ensure that its online retail business does not get hindered in case the company loses its ongoing legal battle with Future Group.

Among a number of other ambitious targets, Amazon is planning to increase the number of its massive warehouses called fulfilment centres (FCs) by 30% within a year to have a total of 100-120 of them in India by the end of the year, so that customers even in remote locations get speedy delivery.

The Seattle-based e-commerce giant is looking to increase the number of its tie-ups with sellers (small businesses and stores) by 40% to take it to 1 million within a year; and forge tie-ups with at least 300,000 such entities whose India-made products are to be sold to customers in the US, Europe, West Asia, Japan and other developed nations.

Amazon India has drawn an internal target to increase the revenue from exports from $3 billion to $10 billion in the next four years.

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