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Delhi may soon run short of essentials, say traders

April 05, 2020 06:00 AM


Delhi may soon run short of essentials, say traders
RETAIL HIT: Shortage of transport, labour, and curfew passes compound problem

Vatsala Shrangi

New Delhi : Wholesale traders in Delhi have warned of a shortage of essential items in the coming days, saying they are still to get the required number curfew passes for the movement of goods during the nationwide lockdown announced to stave off the spread of Sars-Cov-2 infection.

Essential items include milk, vegetables, foodgrains, cooking oil, consumer durables and medicines, among others.

The capital’s apex traders’ body on Saturday said they had written to the Union and Delhi governments to streamline the issuance of passes so that supplies are not affected.

The Central government had issued a list of essential items, including groceries, which have been kept out of the purview of businesses ordered to remain shut during the lockdown.

According to traders, the shortage of curfew passes meant that goods were not able to reach retail markets and small-time grocers on time. According to the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), with only around 20% of the labour force and limited vehicles available, the delay in issuing passes may lead to a scarcity of essential items as retail stores may run out of stock.

“We are already in the day 12 [Saturday] of the lockdown. The system of issuing e-passes for transporting essential goods must be streamlined. In many cases, passes have not been issued even after four or five days of applying. Additionally, some are being rejected without any reasons being given. This may disrupt the supply chain,” said Praveen Khandelwal, general secretary, (CAIT).

Curfew passes are necessary to cross Delhi’s interstate borders, as well as movement across the city.

From March 26, the Delhi government and Delhi Police began an online system where people can apply for an electronic pass (e-pass), intended primarily for workers engaged in essential services who did not have formal identity cards.

Wholesale dealers supply stock from their godowns to different groups of retailers across the city. However, modern supply chains are intricate, and mostly rely on several interconnected elements to function in tandem. If a single element is disrupted, the entire chain is thrown into disarray.

“We have suggested that authorities may allow the recognised traders associations to issue passes to drivers and merchants with, along with government officials, after following due process, in a phased manner. This could help facilitate movement of goods and services, while also maintaining the sanctity of the lockdown,” Khandelwal said.

A senior Delhi government official, however, said there is no pendency as such.

“Initially there were some technical glitches, but passes are being given within a day or two. We haven’t received any complaints so far. We will ensure that all essential goods reach stores in time,” a senior officer, who did not wish to be named, said.

Delhi Police spokesperson MS Randhawa said, “We will definitely address if there are specific issues being faced in delivering essentials. Passes can only be issued to a select number of service providers in order to maintain the provisions of the lockdown.”

Grocery store owners in several markets in Delhi said they were already running short on stocks of essentials such as flour, cooking oil and frozen foods.

“It’s been five days since fresh stocks last arrived. The supply at the back-end is slow. We have almost run out of flour and items such as besan and suji, as well as some spices,” said Yogesh Gupta, 34, who owns a store in central Delhi’s Gole Market.

Traders said they were also facing problems in arranging labour and transport.

A large number of migrant workers engaged labourers in wholesale markets across the city have returned to their home towns in the aftermath of the lockdown.

Naresh Gupta, president, Delhi Grain Merchants Association, said while there is at least two weeks’ worth of essential items in stock old Delhi’s Naya Bazar wholesale market, there aren’t enough vehicles or labour to transport them across the city.

“There is limited staff for loading and unloading. Besides, we don’t get trucks in time, because transporters say they don’t have passes to ply or even drivers available for duty,” he said.

Currently, Gupta said most wholesale dealers have only one truck available every two or three days.

Transporters in the city too said they have been facing challenges in getting vehicles around due to a lack of staff, as well as a shortage of curfew passes. “Many times, despite having e-passes, our staff faces harassment. My drivers have been working two or three shifts a day,” said Kultaran Singh Atwal, president, All India Motor Transport Congress.

He said only 15% of the supply trucks are plying currently. Even during the lockdown, this number should at least be 25%-30%, to ensure essentials reach the markets, Atwal said.

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