E-commerce, online firms struggle to get permits to deliver essentials, run warehouses
BENGALURU : After four days of the lockdown, e-commerce and other online delivery companies are still struggling to obtain permits to operate warehouse and deliver food, medicines and other essential items to customers.
Companies said that there is little coordination not only between the central government and states but within states too, as different cities in a single state are citing varying criteria to issue permits. In some cities, companies have received permits to operate warehouses but are still waiting to receive passes for their workers to deliver orders.
In addition, companies are expecting a shortage of labour as hordes of migrant workers from cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore have been trying to return to their homes amid the chaos unleashed by the sudden lockdown announced late on 24 March.
An executive at a grocery delivery firm said, on condition of anonymity, that the lack of coordination between the central and state governments about what constitutes essential services and the process for issuing permits is resulting in delays in obtaining permits.
Another e-commerce executive said that there was no standard procedure across cities and states for obtaining permits, resulting in delays and uncertainty. Many warehouses operated by e-commerce companies were still shut as of Sunday afternoon, and only a small number of their delivery workers had passes to make deliveries.
“…Last Wednesday, state governments and local law authorities did intervene but on the ground, every state has its own template and there are different passes for each city within each state. There are multiple levels of jurisdiction and intervention within a state. A self-certification mode would be helpful or a central format which every state would follow,” this person said.
m.Paani, a startup that connects local retailers with customers in Mumbai and other cities, said that retailers have been facing issues in getting permits for essential services.
“Given that most stores are already functioning on lower staff capacity at present, getting passes from local authorities was creating hiccups. It is these stores that are in (greater) need of access to e-passes because they have a grassroots presence,” said Akanksha Hazari, Founder and CEO of m.Paani.
Hazari noted that during the initial stages of the lockdown many smaller grocery stores on m.Paani’s platform were forced to shut shop because of the lack of clarity around essential services.
To be sure, companies said that city authorities are responding to their complaints and have been issuing permits in larger numbers over the past three days.
Due to the nationwide lockdown and extensive restrictions on movement of goods and people, Amazon India is unable to predict timelines for delivery of items other than those deemed essential by the government. It has identified and cancelled shipments that currently cannot be delivered to customers in India due to these restrictions. Amazon has also temporarily suspended its pay-on-delivery service to customers and is only accepting online payments to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
“We continue to resume services gradually, adding in more cities as we get the necessary clearances and passes from the local authorities. We are first serving existing orders for essential products and accepting new orders for these items only. We appreciate the central government has recognized e-commerce as essential and continue to work closely with local authorities to help enable more deliveries,” the Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.
After a period of uncertainty, 90% of Grofers’ warehouses are operational and the company has obtained permits for about 50% of its delivery staff, said Rohit Sharma, head of supply chain at Grofers.
Still, delivery times will be longer as the authorities in many cities had earlier forced the company to suspend its operations for a few days, he said.
“Our teams are working round the clock to serve the unprecedented number of orders we have received over the last few days. In order to meet the demand, we have ramped up our supply chain capabilities and are working closely with our manufacturers to secure sufficient stock and deliver it to our customers at the earliest,” Sharma said.
Romita Majundar from Mumbai contributed to the story.