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The Vehicular Lock Jam: An augury of an impending essential commodity crisis

essential commodity crisis
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The lock jam of vehicles in spite of the centre’s ruling still continues, coupled with drivers joining the reverse migration of workers, which has led to a mass abandonment and lock jam of added vehicles. Here we explore the repercussions it might have on the supply chain of essential commodity and the shortage of drivers that will follow.

Despite the government’s intervention on Sunday approving the movement of all trucks that are transporting essential as well as non-essential commodity, it has not consequently led to the clearing of chokepoints across many state borders, with transporters combatting fresh problems due to the massive reverse migration from economic centres including Delhi and Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar.

It has been reported that almost half of the number of drivers have left for their native towns and villages resulting in a huge pile-up of vehicles at inter-state borders, with some even leaving behind vehicles loaded with goods worth crores of rupees unattended along the highway. Transporters also reported incidents of stranded trucks being looted at locations such as the Maharashtra – MP border.

Severe shortage of essential commodity may follow

According to official data, most of these migrant workers who hail from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan, are in Delhi. Transporters fear that if the lock jam isn’t cleared soon, it might lead to severe essential commodity crisis.

Transporters claim that although the Cabinet has set up a committee to look into it, and passed relevant orders, the ground situation remains vastly different as the orders have still not percolated down to the authorities concerned. They fear that if the government is unable to clear the jam in the coming days, it may lead to an acute shortage of supplies in major centres in the coming days. 

There is also a severe shortage of labourers that has contributed to the woes of truckers and grocery suppliers alike. This has created another problem of having supplies but no worker to unload them from. Some shop owners are facing a gradual shortage of essential packaged goods like flour, biscuits, packaged snack foods etc.

In addition to this, e-retailers like BigBasket and Grofers are also far from running at their full capacity. Grofers has reached out to people over social media in order to increase its workforce. Grofers CEO Albinder Dhindsa said in a tweet, “If your company has idling semi-skilled workforce that can do with more income + work in a safe environment, please reach out to Grofers – we are hiring in our warehouses to increase throughout in all cities. Requirement – Smartphone savvy. Transport provided.”

Thus, e-retailers are desperately reaching out to augment their worker force. Mr Dhindsa also revealed that they had inducted one batch of workers from textile industry.

What is depriving food from reaching the customers?

E-retailers like Grofers and BigBasket are now facing the problem of paucity of delivery executives that is responsible for depriving customers of timely deliveries. Both the companies have confessed performing way below 100% operational capacities owing to lack of delivery executives, which has taken a toll on timely deliveries.

Another problem that has arisen with the lockdown is the requirement of permits for all warehouses and passes for every delivery executive.  An official from Grofers had conveyed that so far only 40% of passes for the staff had been arranged. 

Similarly, Bigbasket shared that the company was operating at 10 per cent capacity as on March 25 and as of Sunday at 40 per cent. However, their HR teams have been working on recruiting and retaining people so that we can increase our capacity.

Additionally, within the city limits, restaurants and food delivery companies were not receiving items such as cutlery and packaging material, which is necessary for delivery of food, but not seen as essential earlier. “In the case of food, all raw materials for preparation of food were included in the essential commodity category. But then packaging material such as silver foil and plastic cutlery was not in the essential category product list. We had a tough time procuring them,” a delivery-only restaurant-owner based out of Bengaluru said.

Delivery executives of online food ordering platforms are also burdened with similar problems. In some cities, platforms such as Swiggy and Zomato have outsourced the work to business-to-business delivery services platform.

One of the persons of such a platform shared how delivery personnel encounter problems only after delivering the food, as they have a hard time convincing authorities that they were out for work. While on the way to deliver orders, they can navigate easily since they have their passes and the food with them. 

It is extremely crucial for the government to take immediate action in ensuring that the lock jam along the highways are cleared, or a bigger crisis of lack of timely delivery of essential commodity may pose a bigger threat. An underlying problem with any of the levels, be it lack of workers to unload the commodities, or the lack of drivers to drive the goods to their destinations will inevitably lead to a bigger disruption in the supply chain of essential commodities. There is still time for prompt action in nipping the bud before it’s too late.

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