Confusion about exemptions and the supply of essential items has left scores of people in the lurch as India went into a 21-day lockdown from Tuesday midnight to combat the spread of Covid-19. Supply of essential items has hit a hurdle as trucks carrying groceries, vegetables and fruits are stuck on highways.
While goods trains fall in the exempted category, freight services have been hit as Railways is not mentioned as an essential service in the orders issued by states. Railways staff are reportedly being stopped from carrying out their duties, according to The Indian Express. “Law enforcement agencies are telling our workers, labourers and others engaged in freight activities that all trains are cancelled so there can be no exemption for any railway worker,” an unidentified government official told the newspaper. “Then there are places where they are saying that only movement of essential commodities will be allowed, though all goods trains stand exempted as per the Union government’s instructions.”
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi corroborated it. “We get rice from West Bengal, pulses from Katni and Satna in Madhya Pradesh, and mustard oil from Rajasthan,” he said. “Trucks are being stopped at inter-state borders.”
The president of All India Motor Transport Congress claimed that trucks were being stopped at borders of Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and some states in southern India. “The government has locked everything down,” Kultaran Singh Atwal said. “Trucks are not being allowed to ply on roads… If the transport chain breaks, it poses danger to the supply of essential commodities.” He added that drivers were often abandoning trucks at state borders. “Once they go away, it is very difficult to get them back.”
The shutting down of air and rail transport has further worsened the situation. Besides, shipments from Covid-19-affected countries like China and Singapore are not being offloaded at ports.
E-commerce too has taken a hit. While some have suspended their services, a few others are facing difficulty in delivering orders and maintaining the supply chain.
Flipkart on Wednesday announced that it has temporarily suspended its services in India. “Hello fellow Indians, We’re temporarily suspending our services,” the e-commerce giant said in a message on its website and its app. “These are difficult times, times like no other. Never before, have communities stayed apart to stay safe. Never before, has being at home meant helping the nation. We urge you to stay home to stay safe...We will get there. And we will get through. Together.” However, Flipkart is still offering payment services.
Amazon India, on the other hand, is only selling essential products. “To serve our customers’ most urgent needs while also ensuring safety of our employees, we are temporarily prioritizing our available fulfilment and logistics capacity to serve products that are currently critical for our customers such as Household Staples, Packaged Food, Health Care, Hygiene, personal safety and other high priority products,” it wrote in a blog. “This also means that we have to temporarily stop taking orders and disable shipments for lower-priority products.”
Online grocers like Big Basket and Grofers have also halted their operations in certain areas. Licious, the meat and seafood company, has also intimated its customers that they could not deliver as the “latest on-ground situation is non-conducive for home delivery”. Some even alleged harassment.
Grofers has asked resident welfare associations and housing societies in NCR, Kolkata and Bengaluru to arrange for “zero-touch deliveries” by creating a drop zone. “Unfortunately, our delivery team has been held up at checkpoints and some of our warehouses have been locked by local authorities, as the situation due to Covid-19 remains very uncertain,” said Grofers’ Chief Executive Officer Albinder Dhindsa.
Dhindsa urged authorities to find a solution. “While we understand they [officials] are doing their duty, essential items will be denied to 20,000+ households in Faridabad and Delhi every day,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “We need help in sorting this out.” Co-founder Saurabh Kumar also alleged that its trucks and delivery partners were being stopped and harassed by police and local goons.
Allegations of assault were also levelled by Freshtohome, a meat and vegetable delivery start-up, and online pharmacy 1mg. “We are facing huge issues,” Shan Kadavil, CEO of Freshtohome, told The Indian Express. “Modiji had called delivery people rajya rakshak, but unfortunately the information has not gone down to the police level. Our delivery people are getting harassed and beaten up… We have taken all the necessary approvals, but it is a massive failure at the implementation level.”
Grofers and Freshtohome said they were trying to procure curfew passes to operate in Delhi. Section 144 is in place in the entire city and its borders are also shut. All non-essential travel is prohibited. All non-essential services and establishments, both private and public, have been closed.