New Delhi | Bengaluru: The disruption in supplies of essentials eased on Thursday, although consumers and the trade still complained about goods not getting through. This prompted the government to issue guidelines late on Thursday to ensure that holdups could be overcome.
Retailers, both offline and online, said they saw an improvement after local authorities and police acted to reverse the indiscriminate shutting of retail outlets and warehouses besides allowing free movement of workers needed to get the supply chain to work. The standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by the home ministry said “home delivery of essential goods shall be encouraged” and that “delivery of all essential goods… through ecommerce will remain operational.” It said the restrictions are on “movement of people” and not essential goods. It said “small retail shops, large organised retail stores and ecommerce companies” along with support infrastructure and associated workforce should be allowed to operate.
Trucks carrying essential supplies that had been stuck at state borders for days also began moving.
Meetings with Police & Local Authorities
This would ensure goods reach warehouses and online delivery fulfilment centres. The big fastmoving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, which had trouble running their factories and transporting finished goods in the past three days, said the situation had begun to return to normal.
“We are starting to see these (things) come in place in several parts of the country now and are working closely with government authorities to enable the distribution of essential goods throughout the nation,” a Hindustan Unilever (HUL) spokesperson told ET.
Online marketplaces BigBasket, Grofers, Flipkart and Amazon, which had stopped accepting orders from customers as the 21-day lockdown went into effect on Wednesday, resumed taking them, starting with a few locations. The marketplaces said they were adding new regions by the hour. Flipkart and Amazon, however, said they would only accept orders for essential products.
Retailers and consumer companies said matters began improving after meetings with police and local authorities in many states on Wednesday. However, some added that it was taking longer than usual to get things up and running as they had to interact with local authorities in every state and district. “We are very appreciative of the support that the central and state governments and the local police authorities have provided. The quick response and clarifications provided by them have made the situation on the ground better,” said a Flipkart spokesperson. “We’re hopeful that these actions will build further confidence in the delivery executives.”
Dhirendra Chopra, chairman of Gujarat-based Osia Hypermart, echoed this view.
“Authorities are cooperating as they also realise they need us to deliver the essential goods,” he said. “We are expecting to get the curfew passes for our staff in the next couple of hours.”
Not everyone is convinced the situation is better. Community platform LocalCircles reported that the non-availability of essential goods in offline stores had increased with 43% of respondents reporting they weren’t able to find what they wanted in a store on March 25 and 26 from 32% on March 23 and 24.
Consumers, however, saw the availability of essential goods improve on ecommerce platforms, with 61% respondents saying they couldn’t find what they wanted between March 25 and 26, compared with 79% on March 23 and 24.
Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO of Retailers Association of India, said he had received reports of store staff being stopped or even manhandled by the police. Online retailers also reported cases of delivery staff being stopped and caned in several cities. “The attendance is still very low at stores,” Rajagoplan said. “I won’t say Thursday was better, but I am more hopeful today. It will take three days of no beating incidents (by police) to say that things are okay.”
Rajagopalan added that the exodus of labour following the nationwide lockdown has added to the weakness of the supply chain. The relief package announced Thursday by the Centre, which includes direct cash transfers for three months, may mean migrant workers who worked at warehouses and manufacturing hubs won’t feel the need to return immediately.
Delhi Police was expected to re-issue an order allowing essential supplies in the capital without naming companies to avoid frequent updates to add exempted vendors to the list, according to people with knowledge of the matter.