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Essential services hit hurdle

Essential services hit hurdle

New Delhi: With the enforcement of the 21-day lockdown across the country on the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the supply of essential commodities took a massive beating due to the lack of clarity among local administrations over the implementation of various provisions related to the restriction.

In one state, police officers were found stopping any passing motorists and demanding to know why they were outside their homes, also lathi-charging them in certain cases without really asking for their identities. In a number of other cities, doctors and nurses have been made homeless overnight, shunned as carriers of the deadly Coronavirus while across India, crowds gathered at food stores and wiped out the shelves.

With 90 new positive cases in a day, India on Wednesday reported 606 confirmed cases of COVID-19, out of which 553 have been reported active, 43 recovered and 10 deaths.

As the number of positive cases continues to rise, a doctor of a Delhi Mohalla Clinic developed symptoms of COVID-19. The authorities have asked the visitors to go for 15-day home quarantine.

A journalist from Bhopal was among the six new COVID-19 patients reported in Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday, triggering panic among the media fraternity as he was present at a press conference of former Chief Minister Kamal Nath here on March 20.

With confusion among functionaries at the lower levels about exemptions, transport even within states was badly affected. Big online grocers too were left scrambling to ensure sustenance of their supply chains.

According to Pradeep Singhla, chairman of the All India Transport Welfare Association, there would be a shortage of goods truck drivers in the country due to the fear among them of getting infected with the lethal virus.

"The trend of drivers going back to their home destinations have started emerging in the transportation sector and vehicles carrying goods are not being unloaded due to the paucity of manpower," he said, adding that about 50 per cent of the organised business is being catered by the organisation.

"There are other challenges associated with this sector too as we need an office for monitoring the movement of goods. Besides, we require mechanics and road-side eateries (dhabas) and all this cannot be done while being at home," he said, adding that the government must take a call and fix guidelines for the smooth operation of trucks as work from home is not feasible in this sector.

Commenting on the uninterrupted supply chain, former Agriculture Secretary Siraj Hussain said: "Supply chain of food manufacturers, including procurement of raw material, packaging material, ingredients and movement of trucks has been badly hit, which would show up in the shortage of food items in the next few days."

He further added: "In several states, the food companies have been forced to seek curfew permits from district collectors or police for permitting movement of raw material or finished products. It is possible that trucks moving foodgrains for ration shops may also be stuck."

Hussain maintained: "Complete lockdown of three weeks is too long for food items. It is, therefore, necessary that the Home Ministry issues clear directions to the states that all food items mentioned in the FSSA are exempted from any restrictions on manufacturing and movement."

The situation in Tier 3 cities is worse as locals have to visit grocery shops, vegetable markets, etc to procure essential items of their daily needs.

In cities like Gaya, Danapur, Muzzafarnagar, Kanpur, Rishikesh, the supply chain is dependent on self-procurement only as app-based services are not functional. Until proper arrangements are made, people will have to go to the markets, defying the lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance has clarified that in cases where supply chains have been disrupted due to the ongoing crisis and the subsequent lockdown, both suppliers and purchasers will be allowed to invoke the Force Majeure Clause of the Manual for Procurement of Goods, 2017, issued by the Department of Expenditure.

A "Force Majeure" is an "extraordinary event or circumstance beyond human control", due to which if the supplier's or purchaser's operations are suspended, both parties would have to bear no contractual or obligatory liabilities by invoking the Force Majeure Clause.

The Ministry has categorised the COVID-19 crisis as a "natural calamity", as per the clarification.

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