The transportation of essential food items has become a problem for the government
Today morning, when I went to the nearest grocery store many essential food items were not available. I asked the storekeeper when will be they available? He said ,“The supplier truck of many essential goods like soybean, peanuts, oil is not coming since the lockdown was announced.” I questioned – “Hasn’t government ensured the smooth transportation of essential food items. He said, ‘Everything is running properly only on paper not at a ground level’. I am sure many of you would have experienced the lack of essential food items at your nearest grocery store.
After coming back from the grocery store, I thought of knowing more about the situation and I have come to know that India has enough amount of essential food items in stock, but the problem is the transportation of those products.
The disrupted supply chain, inter-state of goods restricted and Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis shut are not helping the government to effectively put the food from store to the plates of people’s plate.
On March 1, the stock of wheat and rice with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) stood at around 77.6 million tonnes. It was more than three and half times of the minimum operational buffer-cum-strategic stock of 21.04 million tonnes required to be maintained for April 1.
On March 19, the National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India had 2.25 million tonnes of stocks excluding the upcoming rabi crop. The sale of grain doesn’t involve APMCs, and the stock is simply moved from godowns to the vendors. The problem persists with vegetables and fruits at various levels.
A large chunk of Rabi crop is harvested, but still few are standing. The panicked exodus of daily wage workers will result in a shortage of labourers. Once the crop is harvested, it is packed and transported to markets, which needs workers, uninterrupted movement and vehicle drivers.
Often producers and consumers are from different states. Recently, Bihar deputy CM Sushil Modi said that Bihar gets its rice from West Bengal, pulses from Satna and Katni in Madhya Pradesh and mustard oil from Rajasthan. But because the state borders are sealed, there is no clarity on the smooth transportation of these goods. The central government has exempted good transport from the countrywide-lockdown, but how it is handled at the level of highways or local police is a matter of concern.
We all have seen reports of police action against people who were out to deliver ‘essential services’, excluded in lockdown. On Sunday, the distinction between essential and non-essential goods was lifted and all goods were allowed. But the prospect of being stopped, checked and harassed at every checkpoint is likely to keep transport business owners and truck drivers away.
Migrant workers have dislocated at many places and there is a clear shortage of delivery personnel at all levels.
The pressure on the supply chains include factors like shortage of labour to pack the produced products in gunny bags to load and unload the bags and closure of dhabas that served truck drivers.
We have a situation where one side – products rot in the godowns distressing the farmers and on the other side market is running out of supplies. The shortage might not feel much in metro or bigger cities as the government is determined to keep the terminal market in stages and ensure that they get their daily requirements.
But smaller towns and villages will feel the halt as these places depend on the service through small mandis.
What should be done?
It is important for the central and state governments to intervene and give clear orders that those engaged in agricultural labour will not be harassed and the movement of produce-bearing trucks or other vehicles will not be interrupted at state borders.
The laborers who are on the journey or about to start their journey to their hometown should be given assurance so that we don’t run out of workers and they don’t run out of food and shelter.
Because passenger trains are cancelled, Indian railways can be pressed into service to transport farm produce.
Smaller Mandis can be set up in government schools or other vacant public areas. Farmers can be given day-wise or hour-wise slots along with a clear assurance that they will get money for all of their products.
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