Lockdown Also Hits Supply of Essential Goods Over Transport Issues

A large chunk of the labour has gone home following lockdown; fleet owners are reluctant to carry consignments citing harassment.

Mumbai: Processors and importers are finding it hard to keep up the supply of essential commodities with most markets, such as vegetables, edible oil, grain and pulses being disrupted either because they don’t have workers, or transport facilities are not smooth. If such a situation continues for long, scarcity could be a major problem, say market leaders.

In Mumbai, grain offtake has doubled to 100,000 bags of 30 kg each a day over the past few days. After the lockdown was implemented across many states, transporters are saying they may carry grains from producing centres, because when they go empty on their return journey they may not able to prove that the vehicle was used for delivery of essentials and could have their trucks held up. Many transporters complain of the non-availability of drivers. In the Mumbai wholesale market, grain stock for 10 days is available and traders hope transport issues get sorted out before that.

The grain market at Navi Mumbai is closed till tomorrow and may also remain shut on Wednesday as workers have left for home due to the coronavirus scare. “Availability of workers is a big problem. We asked the government to provide enough sanitizers and masks for workers’ safety, but there is no sign that the labour will return,” said Nilesh Veera, director, Navi Mumbai APMC.

A representative of New Mumbai vegetable market said his market is expected to open tomorrow but the lack of workers, and the fact that several roadside retail vegetable vendors went out of business for a different set of reasons have caused disruptions. He added that enough stock is available in the wholesale market and that he is waiting for traders to lift it. He added that supply and distribution disruption is a wider issue in the state, if not elsewhere.

Pulses are in demand with greater offtake from the poultry industry and Chana prices are on the rise. However, several dal mills (units that process pulses) are also dealing with labour and transport issues. Imported of pulses as per government quota have arrived and are lying at the customs for want of clearance. An importer said that the stocks have not been cleared and the fact that the customs department is not working in full strength is only adding to the problem.

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Bimal Kothari, Vice Chairman, India Pulses and Grains Association said, “I assume today is the first day of lockdown and trade issues are much smaller than the Coronavirus. We hope things settle in the next few days.”

Flour mills are no exception and face similar problems. One mill owner said that one of the largest atta (wheat flour)-selling FMCG company sees huge demand isn’t getting its supply of packing material. Their issue is that authorities aren’t yet ready to accept that packing material needed for essential commodities should also be treated as essential.

India imports three-fourths of its edible oil requirement. However, the falling rupee has made the commodity costlier the past few weeks, and demand has also reduced either due to price or supply disruptions. Crushing and refining units are facing labour shortages and reluctant tanker operators.

Many units have complained that local officials are not allowing transport. Another issue that has come up is the decision to keep ships in quarantine at high seas for 14 days before arriving at the port. There is confusion over Whether 14 days will be counted from the day when the vessel left the supply destination or from the date of arrival. Besides, clearance delays at ports could also jeopardise supplies, says an official of a large importing company.

Onions at Lasalgaon, according to National Horticulture Research and Development Foundation, were being sold for Rs 12 a kg. Supply by road from the wholesale market to consuming centre is another issue. Industry official, however, hoped that “going ahead these things should get sorted out.”

By arrangement with Business Standard.