On day 1, government moves to fix supply chain hiccups, Retail News, ET Retail
The country began the first day of a 21-day lockdown that was called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a disruption in the supply chain across the country. Following government assurances, ecommerce platforms such as Flipkart and Amazon are expected to resume delivery of groceries and essentials late on Wednesday or early Thursday to people dependent almost solely on home deliveries amid the shutdown.
The home ministry set up a control room to monitor the situation, while states were asked to allow the movement of goods and staff so that essentials reached consumers. States will draw up standard operating procedures and start helplines. Ecommerce companies said they would supply essential goods with minimum human contact. Governments also announced subsidised and free food supplies to the poor, many of whom have no source of livelihood.
Delhi lieutenant governor Anil Baijal appointed two nodal officials — representing the police and the local government — to address problems faced by goods and services, including interstate movement.
Fruit, Veggie Traders Seek Passes for Trucks
The Gurgaon police said on Wednesday that they would allow the representatives of companies such as Zomato, Flipkart, Amazon, Big Bazaar, Swiggy, Grofers, BigBasket and Milkbasket to operate. Noida authorities discussed the matter with retailers and ecommerce executives to arrive at a resolution.
In major fruit and vegetable markets, traders were in talks with authorities to issue passes for trucks and workers in the vital hubs that connect farmers with consumers. Traders in Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi said fruit and vegetable sales had fallen sharply but was expected to pick up in a day.
Information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters after a cabinet meeting that the Centre and states will ensure the supply of essential goods to people. He also said the government will give 7 kg of foodgrains to every poor person a month at a concessional rate of Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 3 per kg for rice.
Ecommerce deliveries will be ramped up to full capacity in another two-three days, executives said.
“We have been assured of the safe and smooth passage of our supply chain and delivery executives by local law enforcement authorities and are resuming our grocery and essentials services later today,” Flipkart Group CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy said.
Reports throughout the day spoke of police and municipal indiscriminately obstructing all movement, including that of medicines, prompting the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists to issue a warning about stocks running low. Also hit was the supply of hydroxycholoroquine tablets that have been recommended for healthcare workers dealing with Covid-19 patients. It took two days for IPCA Labs to get permission to airlift the tablets for use by the central government.
Himachal Pradesh authorities had even asked Wallace Labs, another manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine tablets, to shut its plant although many states had called for supplies, said managing director Vinay Pinto.
Retailers in many cities reported that their workers were stopped and handled roughly by the police. “On the ground, the interpretation and the reaction is very different than what the Centre and the state governments have specified,” said Mohit Kampani, deputy managing director of More Retail, which operates supermarkets in various parts of India. More could not open 80% of its stores on Wednesday.
A Future Group spokesperson said many employees could not reach its stores as authorities restricted travel despite permission letters. For example, the Big Bazaar hypermarket in Faridabad had to stay closed on Wednesday as police prevented staff from getting to work.
“In some states like Uttar Pradesh, even kirana stores were not allowed to open…. So (also in) Punjab, which is very baffling,” said Arvind Mediratta, managing director of Metro Cash and Carry India and also the head of Ficci’s retail and internal trade committee. Eight Metro wholesale stores out of the total 28 across the country were shut.
Transportation was a key bottleneck as trucks struggled to get past state borders and police pickets.
“Our warehouses are stocked up but 90% of them are shut and we are not able to move the goods out,” said the CEO of an online retail company. “We are also facing a big issue of workers not coming in as they are scared of action by local authorities.”
The Retailers Association of India said manhandling of store staff by police was reported on Wednesday from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Gujarat. It has urged chief ministers and police chiefs of these states to intervene.
By Wednesday evening, there were signs of a change in the situation. A senior executive at a leading ecommerce company said things had started moving on the ground and with the support of central and state governments and local police he expected supplies to improve in two-three days.
Ecommerce companies Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal said they will prioritise delivery of essentials and non-essential orders will be fulfilled only after April 15.
“We will prioritise processing of essentials, like orders relating to personal and home hygiene, safety, among others,” said a Snapdeal spokesperson. “We will continue to accept other orders too and we will inform buyers that these will be delivered once movement restrictions are lifted.”
Online grocers BigBasket and Grofers expressed optimism with warehouses being allowed to stay open. However, they continued with their policy of declining fresh orders as they await full clarity before doing so, people aware of the matter told ET.
Flipkart was optimistic that deliveries would commence late Wednesday in Bengaluru followed by Delhi and NCR on Thursday morning. A senior executive said talks were going on with local authorities in Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad as well to kickstart delivery of groceries over the next few days.
Companies still want some clarity from government agencies on what goods will be termed as essentials as they look to service a larger range of items than just “food, pharmaceuticals and medical devices” that the Ministry of Home Affairs March 24 order said they’d be allowed to deliver.