NEW DELHI: As India went into a 21-day lockdown from Wednesday, the Centre, states and local administrations scrambled to resolve disruptions in essential services, especially delivery of food, groceries and medicines, with reports streaming in from different parts of the country of police obstructing, and even beating up, distribution executives – prompting e-grocers BigBasket and Grofers and online retail major Flipkart to stop accepting fresh orders.
Also, many essential daily products have gone off the shelves primarily because movement of trucks between factories, warehouses and grocery stores have been hit by the lockdown.
In a circular to the chief secretaries and DGPs of all states, the home ministry said that while it was imperative to successfully implement the notified lockdown, it was also necessary to ensure unhindered delivery of essential services exempted from various prohibitory orders. All states were asked to set up 24×7 control rooms, state and district-level helplines and appoint nodal officers to ensure seamless supply and availability of essential commodities and services during the lockdown.
Across cities, the refrain was that staples were either in short supply or unavailable in shops and not being home delivered by e-retailers. In Gurgaon and Noida, the NCR authorities issued notifications allowing e-comm companies delivering groceries and cooked meals to run operations after being flooded with complaints of cancelled orders and angry residents asking why restrictions had affected the delivery of essential services despite the PM’s assurance of accessibility to them during the lockdown.
Noida will now issue passes to riders and vehicles engaged in delivery of essentials. A control room has been set up for complaints, as mandated by the Centre. All grocery, milk and vegetable shops in Noida and Greater Noida will be open from 6am to 11pm. The vegetable wholesale market in Noida will ensure availability of supplies to delivery apps, the DM said. In Gurgaon, the nodal officer on Covid-19 held a meeting with representatives of the grocery and medical shops association, besides representatives of online delivery firms, to ensure uninterrupted supply of essential items.
Many essential daily products have gone off the shelves primarily because movement of trucks between factories, warehouses and grocery stores have been hit by curfews declared by some states and UTs. Consumers have complained about being unable to find even common brands of various daily necessities.
Industry sources said the disruption in supply chain was mainly due to the overzealousness of a section of the police force, who were allegedly obstructing even stockists of consumer products.
Some places are running out of packaged drinking water as well. There are long queues outside supermarkets as consumers scramble to stock up for the next few weeks, resulting in some taking advantage of the situation. A complex in Hyderabad, for instance, has put a Rs 500 upper limit on purchase of vegetables, and Rs 1,000 upper limit for general items. Meat and seafood brand Licious has stopped operations in Delhi.
Distributors across the country have stopped operations and are waiting for a few days for things to settle down as there is confusion around labour movements. They, along with retailers, have 15-20 days worth of inventory. Godrej Consumer Products and Nestle India, in separate updates to the stock exchanges, said operations in some locations had been scaled down or suspended.
In Mumbai, e-delivery service Supr Daily did not supply milk at several locations on Wednesday. Other delivery options like Big Basket and DMart did not offer any delivery slots to customers. The few shops that opened quickly ran out of staples like bread.
Amid uncertainty over how long the shortage would continue, CM Uddhav Thackeray said in a televised speech in the afternoon that the state government had instructed police to facilitate movement of vendors offering doorstep delivery of food items, medicines and all other commodities exempted from the lockdown.
The transport department notified that apart from stickers on heavy goods vehicles ferrying essential commodities, transporters would be issued a certificate each that would have to be shown at check posts.
The Telengana government was among the first to step in after a flood of complaints about even exempted services like doorstep delivery of essentials being disrupted. “I am a senior citizen. During the lockdown, home delivery is the need of the hour, especially for people with health ailments. Since Tuesday, I was unable to order essentials for me,” P Vidyavati, a resident of Kukatpally Housing Board Colony, said in a tweet addressed to municipal administration minister KT Rama Rao.
Following an assurance from the authorities that delivery agents and trucks delivering goods would not be stopped by the police, all the major e-commerce companies decided to resume operations on Thursday.
In Karnataka, Flipkart resumed delivery of groceries and other essentials in the evening after an assurance from the state government that there would be no impediments. Online grocery BigBasket tweeted, “We regret the inconvenience caused; we are not operational due to restrictions imposed by local authorities on the movement of goods in spite of clear guidelines provided by central authorities to enable essential services. We are working with the authorities to be back soon.”
@iNishaIyer1 Dear Customer, We are not operational due to restrictions imposed by local authorities on the movement… https://t.co/W6T1AehyxK— bigbasket (@bigbasket_com) 1585113611000
Punjab police engaged Zomato, Swiggy, Verka and Amul for door-to-door supply of essentials in Amritsar, Ludhiana and Patiala. DGP Dinkar Gupta said that for medicines, the administration would tie up with pharmacy associations so that orders could be taken over phone and delivered at home.
Chandigarh’s promised “door-to-door delivery system” for essentials collapsed on the very first day. There was no milk, vegetable and groceries in most sectors, villages and colonies. Telephone numbers of vendors enlisted by the Chandigarh administration and the municipal corporation were either switched off or went on ringing.
Kolkata and other cities and towns of Bengal faced both a shortage of commodities and a spike in prices, although sources said both would stabilise on Thursday. CM Mamata Banerjee asked the police to issue special passes to delivery personnel working for online retailers as well as shops. “The police will issue these passes to traders, who can then distribute them among their delivery boys,” she said.