There have been instances of delivery executives allegedly being stopped and questioned by the police, in some cases, even beaten up despite delivery being classified as an essential service.

Money Coronavirus Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 10:33

The country is under lockdown in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, with only essential services being allowed to operate by authorities. However, governments and authorities aren’t in congruence over what is considered to be an “essential” service, leading to multiple online grocery providers temporarily halting deliveries, or leading to delay in deliveries. This comes as all providers are witnessing a surge in orders, and it even led to Big Basket’s app and website to crash.

There have been instances of delivery executives allegedly being stopped and questioned by the police, in some cases, even beaten up. However, delivery has been classified as an essential service.

This is what online grocery platforms such as Bigbasket and Grofers said too, as that they continued to operate based on the understanding that they too are classified as an essential service. However, Bigbasket was forced to stop deliveries temporarily due to these restrictions being imposed by authorities. 

Many Bigbasket users across the country had a message at the top of their application that said, “Dear Customer, we are not operational due to restrictions imposed by local authorities on the movement of goods in spite of clear guidelines provided by central authorities to enable essential services. We are working with the authorities to be back soon.” 

“...in light of recent development with multiple statements coming in, we are awaiting clarifications from the authorities basis which we will be able to determine how soon we can get back to serving you,” the company said in a tweet. 

According to Saurabh Kumar, co-founder of Grofers, the online delivery startup has been having trouble delivering even essentials to customers as its warehouses are being asked to close down, and trucks and delivery partners are being stopped by the police.  

“Our delivery executives are selflessly putting their safety at risk to ensure people stay indoors and get all their essentials at home. And then they get stopped and harassed by police and local goons. Who are we really clapping for at 5pm today?” he tweeted on Sunday, when the country observed Janata Curfew.

On Monday too, he took to social media to say that police and local authorities continue to shut warehouses.

“All the proactive initiatives of the government and central authorities are going to waste because of overzealous enforcement agencies. Grofers warehouses cater to 5000 to 10,000 orders daily so for every facility that gets shut we risk that many households venturing out for grocery buying. Hoping sense prevails here. We apologise to our customers again. We are trying our best to get all our facilities up,” he tweeted.

Grofers also informed customers in an email that their delivery team had been held up at various checkpoints, and that some of their warehouses were locked by authorities and the situation remains uncertain.  

Milk and grocery delivery startup Milkbasket too faced the same issue. Anant Goel, CEO of Milkbasket said in a series of tweets on Monday that the company’s staff, vendors and vehicles are being pushed back from the roads by local police, disrupting operations.

He suggested to authorities that ‘Access Permits’ or ‘ID cards’ be issued to staff engaged in essential services such as grocery delivery, medicines, food delivery and others.

As per some reports, Grofers had to reschedule over 2.6 lakh orders, while Bigbasket saw over one lakh orders getting cancelled in the past two days.

These companies, along with industry bodies such as FICCI and CII have now written to the Prime Minister’s Office and to state governments asking for intervention on the same so that their operations can be resumed.

A Swiggy delivery executive in Mumbai said that delivery executives were being stopped and questioned in the city. In some instances, he said that they were asked to turn back and leave or take a different route. 

Swiggy’s grocery arm Supr Daily told TNM that it was forced to delist stock because warehouse executives were not able to reach the warehouse due to movement restrictions within the cities.

"Our staff have found it incredibly difficult to reach warehouse and delivery locations due to movement restrictions within cities. We are now operating at less than 10% capacity, due to which we unfortunately had to delist most grocery products from our app. We have taken all the necessary precautions with our warehouse and delivery staff to ensure the safety of our staff as well as our customers,” Puneet Kumar, Founder & CEO, Supr Daily told TNM. 

Several customers too, took to Twitter to question why delivery executives were being stopped. This, many said, caused major inconvenience to people who were depending on these delivery services for groceries and food. 

And not just delivery executives, the Retail Association of India claims that retail employees too, apart from their delivery staff, are being harassed by local police

“All retailers are committed to selling and delivering essentials in a safe manner. However, in some unfortunate incidents in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Gujarat the local police are going beyond the word of law, beating employees and delivery staff of such retailers, and taking them to chowkis for doing their duty. These employees are risking their lives for serving citizens,” RAI has said in a statement.

RAI has requested all the state governments in the country to allow food and grocery stores within malls or outside, air-conditioned or not air-conditioned, small or large stores and online or offline to stay open during the lockdown period. 

RAI has also requested the home deliveries be allowed to prevent people from stepping out of their homes thereby preventing the spreading of the infection. 

Spudnik Farms, an organic, community supported farm in Bengaluru too faced a similar situation where its trucks were stopped by the police at Kaggalipura and Narasapura checkposts, who it claimed were not accepting that vegetables are exempted.

However, it has said that it has received a written permission from the Deputy Commissioner of Police for Bengaluru Isha Pant and will attempt deliveries again on Wednesday.

For Hyderabad, Telangana Minister KT Rama Rao said that he asked Principal Secretary Jayesh Ranjan to be in touch with to Big Basket, Amazon and Grofers to start deliveries as early as possible.  

Lawrencedale Agro Processing (LEAF), a fresh produce agriculture chain said on Tuesday that the movement of fresh fruits and vegetables by organized supply chains “has been hit due to lack of clarity at the officials manning the borders between the five South Indian States.”

LEAF stated that it works with marginal farmers across south India. “...due to lack of clarity at the check-post of States in South India, the entry of our vehicles is being either stopped or not allowed to return to home base,” said Palat Vijayaraghavan, Founder & CEO, LEAF.

Also read: Flipkart suspends services, Amazon to deliver only essential orders