As a population of 1.3 billion stays indoors to fight the COVID-19 virus, India is finding it difficult to get a move on and questions are being asked about what the one month long lockdown can do to the crucial logistics sector of the country. The time period may have been necessary to control the spread of coronavirus but the unplanned manner in which the Centre implemented it has led to chaos and pain among migrant workers and normal public. COVID-19 pandemic has already caused untold suffering across the world, but it has also indorsed the bonds of society that unite humanity. In our country, those who are most vulnerable to the consequences of this pandemic are the poor and underprivileged. A significant economic fallout of the COVID-19 is the resulting inadequacies across the country’s already overburdened logistics landscape, which, according to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) employs more than 40 million people and contributes $200 billion plus to the economy. The vast segment, considered to be the lifeline of the country, holds critical importance as it connects various markets, suppliers and customers dotted across the country. In the stir of the growing crisis, it was decided that this critical sector should be allowed to function, especially when carrying essential commodities. However, after weeks of lockdown, the wheels are still at halt.
Citing operational constraints, country’s largest ecommerce marketplaces Flipkart and Amazon have suspended their logistics services for sellers on its platform. Also, according to the Retailers Association of India (RAI), the supply chain of about 25,000-30,000 supermarkets have so far been impacted due to the lockdown announced. The outbreak and the subsequent lockdown across states resulted in stuck shipments increasing by 9%, order delays were up by 21%, and delivery percentage has seen a clear decline of 9%. What is interesting is that this data pertains to the period before the nationwide lockdown started on March 25, which means these numbers would be way worse. According to the representative of the logistics platform, in Pune, there are 31 pin codes that have been blocked by most of the logistics companies. Some logistics firm found there was a surge in business during the initial days of the coronavirus outbreak but it changed once the national lockdown was announced. However, business had come to a standstill post-lockdown for almost a week before the online firm was able to start deliveries of essential goods. The supply chains of sellers are impacted as many of their shipments are stuck in China or at ports, thereby impacting their ability to function. However, currently deliveries of non-essential goods in India is banned thus mitigating the impact, but there will be a huge backlog to overcome once the lockdown lifts.
The delivery boy, the truck driver, the pick-up guys—the vital link in the chain of transportation of goods, work on daily wages or work with significantly smaller organizations that employs less than 10 people. They are thus not even registered for facilities like Provident Fund (PF) or insurance like the Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), etc.
The workers are solely dependent on government support to sail through the 21-days of lockdown. In the mass migration we saw from Delhi and Mumbai, lot of them were truckers, loaders, cleaners, carpenters, mesons among others, who are involved at the last mile delivery or pick-ups. Ever since the lockdown was announced on 24 March, transportation of goods severely hampered, perhaps this is the reason the essential commodities have gone out of stock or their prices are gone up. The super markets are out of stock, street side vendors gone missing, small grocery shops charging huge due to uncertain situations. There is long queue in front of grocery shops and that is never ending saga. Everyday people are standing for hours to meet their daily needs. Due to the shortage of trucks, transportation the essential goods have been affected during the lockdown which has been imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus pandemic. Now since government gave permission to open essential goods outlets, we find no drivers to drive the trucks or carry commodities one place to another, this is why the supply is inadequate. Things have not changed at the ground level as many drivers have either abandoned the trucks and have left for their villages and home towns, or have moved to stay put at places where basic amenities like food and shelter are available. The major grouse against the authorities is the lack of clarity on notices. What is requires is a good coordination and clear transmission of information. There is not much clarity as of now about is allowed and not allowed. The non-essential goods are stuck in the supply chain and have to be cleared to unclog hubs and warehouses. Despite essential goods being allowed, many sellers of these goods are not being allowed to open their warehouses by the State authorities, thus rendering this permission useless. A few vendors received harsh treatment from on-the-ground authorities when trying to deliver goods. This problem is now being overcome as on- the-ground authorities have more information and curfew passes are being given to executives for delivery of essential goods.
There are around 90 lakh commercial vehicles across the India but only around 5 percent of them are operating now. These are mainly LPG and other petroleum products carriers and short distance milk tankers. Moreover, people are safe in their homes while the drivers and labourers are exposed to risk of the virus on the roads and in the open. Everyone is in rush to be with family and in safe zone, only house is the place where all want to reach. workers have migrated to villages to be near loved ones, the difficulty of getting food as eateries are shut has added to their woes. Those who are still in the cities are unable to come to work due to regulation issues. Trucks are still to be found waiting on the roads or those that have been abandoned post-lockdown. Apart from drivers the availability of labour is also a big challenge that is hampering logistics operations in the country.
The government is finding it a challenge to grant permission for all vehicles to ply on the road. Police stations have to give curfew passes to trucks but there are more urgent issues to be taken care of like movement of essential goods. There is a long line at police stations for the permission papers and coupled with labour issues, clogged inventory, difficult intercity movement, it is a long and difficult haul for the logistics industry as of now. Police station lack staff, because maximum police personals are deployed at check points. Very minimum stall is arrayed at every chowki which is managing, curfew passes, permissions, domestic violence cases, social disharmony issues and above all their personal matters too. After all they too are human and they too have fear to their lives and concern for their families. In entire lock down process, government lacked planning in implementation.
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