Supply of essentials during coronavirus lockdown: Staff shortage threaten companies’ operations

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Published: March 28, 2020 4:30:00 AM

A resident of Howrah said there was no shortage in supply of vegetables but grocery shops are soon running out of stock and supplies of fresh stock is slow.

There is no certainty that the lockdown will only last for 21 daysThere is no certainty that the lockdown will only last for 21 days

Even though permission by the authorities may be in place for unhindered supply of essentials to consumers, a critical shortage of staff on the ground is threatening operations by companies at full capacity and raising concerns of availability of adequate stock to sustain the 21-day lockdown period in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Retailers Association of India CEO Kumar Rajagopalan said that a considerable proportion of migrant workers have left, some local workers are being stopped from working by the community and hence, there are not enough people on the ground. Movement from warehouses has become intermittent and with no truckers and handlers, transportation of goods has been stalled. Rajagopalan said the central government should designate workers related to supply of necessary goods as ‘essential’ just like health workers; the association has placed a request to this effect. In the case of online retailers, the situation may be more grim as they usually have a leaner workforce while order backlogs are huge. “There may just be enough supplies to meet the pending orders,” Rajagopalan told FE. Although on date, food supplies are enough, the issue of availability of workers needs to be sorted out on a war-footing, he added.

Priya Gold Biscuits director Shekhar Agarwal told FE that all 12 manufacturing units of the company are shut and the firm’s current stock may just suffice for 10 days or so. Even if the plants start production, it can only do so at about 60% capacity since a significant percentage of labourers have left. “We have a huge population and it is doubtful if all of them have stocked up enough. There is no certainty that the lockdown will only last for 21 days,” Agarwal said. The food processing ministry should come out with clear guidelines for manufacturing units outlining the number of staff to be deployed, elaborating the domain of packaged foods, while it would be helpful if FSSAI advises on sanitation procedures that need to be followed, he added.

Shahrukh Khan, executive director, operations at Dabur, said production is suspended at all units and the firm is awaiting clarity and permissions from the government not just on commencing production but also on movement of workers and smooth functioning of the supply chain, covering incoming raw and packing materials and outgoing finished products. The firm is seeking approvals to start producing essential items like hand sanitisers, hand washes, immunity boosters and Ayurvedic medicines.

Prashant Tandon, co-founder and CEO at online healthcare platform 1mg Technologies, said on the back-end supply of medicines, most distributors are not able to function due to lack of staff. “Distribution markets in cities are mostly shut, particularly in Tier 2 cities like Indore and even if they are open, it is for a shorter duration with large queues to cater to,” Tandon told FE.

Residents of various cities FE spoke to gave mixed responses. A resident of Howrah said there was no shortage in supply of vegetables but grocery shops are soon running out of stock and supplies of fresh stock is slow. A resident of Hyderabad’s Hitec City said there is scarcity of water cans in kirana stores but there is a smooth availability of essentials. A resident of Chennai’s Kumaran Nagar said only two grocery shops were opened as of March 27 evening. “They have enough stock but if people rush to buy, it will get empty in an hour,” the person said. A resident of Mumbai’s Tilak Nagar said there was no panic on the ground. Shelves are not filled to capacity but emergency supplies are available. The person, however, noted that wholesalers complained of unavailability of delivery staff. A South Delhi resident said branded products like a Surf Excel or that of an Amul are not available while stores in the area had scattered supplies.

Albinder Dhindsa, co-founder and CEO at Grofers in a statement, however, said that nearly 90% of the company’s warehouses are operational and 50% of delivery partners with relevant permissions have been deployed.

BigBasket said it is operating in all cities except Visakhapatnam.

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