Lockdown impact: With loaders, workers leaving cities, shipment transportation stuck at ports; some firms introduce solutions
Ever since the lockdown was announced on 24 March only 5 percent of around 90 lakh trucks across India are plying on the roads due to shortage of drivers and labourers at loading and unloading points
Two containers of electronic goods await clearance at the Mumbai port as there are no loaders to unload the shipment. Even if the containers were offloaded from the Korean ships, it cannot be transported to the warehouses as they are shut. More importantly, the government has only allowed the movement of essential goods and trucks. Caught in this situation, Sukhesh Madaan, CEO Blaupunkt Audio India, who has been able to import electronic goods from China is unable to do much than hope the Korean ships will not impose a penalty if the Indian electronics firm cannot pick up the shipment.
The delivery boy, the truck driver, the pick-up guys—the vital link in the chain of transportation of goods, work on daily wages or work with significantly smaller organizations that employs less than 10 people. They are thus not even registered for facilities like Provident Fund (PF) or insurance like the Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), etc. The workers are solely dependent on government support to sail through the 21-days of lockdown. “In the mass exodus we saw from Delhi, I believe a lot of them were truckers, loaders, cleaners among others, who are involved at the last mile delivery or pick-ups,” said Madaan. He did not want to hazard a guess on the loss to his business or the money he would have to pay for the shipment to the Korean ships what with his warehouses shut and payment of salaries for staff—some of them from the marketing team who are unable to do anything, but have to be paid.
Ever since the lockdown was announced on 24 March, only 5 percent of around 90 lakh trucks across India are plying on the roads due to shortage of drivers and labourers at loading and unloading points. This has severely hampered transportation of goods, according to truckers body AIMTC.
Many FMCG companies like ITC, Dabur India, Parle Products, Godrej Consumer Products, and Jyothi Labs have said that due to shortage of trucks, transportation of their goods have been affected during the lockdown which has been imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
The All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) said even after the notification by the Union Home Ministry allowing movement of non-essential goods during the lockdown, things have not changed at the ground level as many drivers have either abandoned the trucks and have left for their villages and home towns, or have moved to stay put at places where basic amenities like food and shelter are available.
"There are around 90 lakh commercial vehicles that we represent all across the country with 3,500 state, district and taluka level bodies affiliated with us... What we feel is that only around 5 percent of them are operating now. These are mainly LPG and other petroleum products carriers and short distance milk tankers," AIMTC Chairman Core Committee and former president Bal Malkit Singh told PTI. Singh said before the nationwide lockdown was announced, there was already partial lockdown as some states had sealed borders and lakhs of trucks were stranded.
“We sit safe and secure in our homes while the drivers and labourers are exposed to risk of the virus on the roads and in the open. If we categorise the supply shock, the reasons are obvious: workers have migrated to villages to be near loved ones, the difficulty of getting food as eateries are shut has added to their woes. Those who are still in the cities are unable to come to work due to regulation issues,” said Pranav Goel, Co-Founder and CEO of five-year-old tech-enabled logistics startup, Porter.
Trucks are still to be found waiting on the roads or those that have been abandoned post-lockdown. The government is finding it a challenge to grant permission for all vehicles to ply on the road. Police stations have to give curfew passes to trucks but there are more urgent issues to be taken care of like movement of essential goods. “There is a long line at police stations for the permission papers and coupled with labour issues, clogged inventory, difficult intercity movement, it is a long and difficult haul for the logistics industry as of now,” said Goel.
Apart from driver issues, Singh said the availability of labour is also a big challenge that is hampering logistics operations in the country. "Truck owners are at home, offices are closed, staff are at home, garages are closed and labourers are not available at loading and unloading points," he said.
Big players like Blue Dart, for instance, has mobilised its Business Contingency and Continuity Plan (BCCP), including pandemic operating plans, and is implementing preventive actions as appropriate to ensure least disruption in services to Indian businesses. “Our QRT – Quick Response Team, is working 24x7 towards mitigating potential impacts while ensuring continuity of the supply chain across the nation. Our six 757 Boeing freighters operating day and night across Indian skies have been prioritised to deliver medical equipment & pharmaceuticals amongst other shipments enabling the nation in its fight against the COVID 19 pandemic,” said Balfour Manuel, MD, Blue Dart.
"Due to the national lockdown, the interstate movement of goods have been adversely impacted, and we are finding it extremely difficult to fulfil orders", said Akash Hegde, Co-founder & MD, ShakeDeal, a B2B distributor and procurement solution provider for industrial goods and supplies. Though state and government authorities are helping in solving this impasse by engaging with stakeholders of those involved in the delivery of essential services like food items and groceries,e-commerce players in B2B and procurement domains have been left in the lurch, Hegde said.
Talwinder Singh, Regional Director Lalamove- an on-demand tech-driven logistics company, said the logistics industry in India is moving at a slow pace. "We are though concentrating more on the peer-to-peer side of things for the moment and are collaborating with respective state governments, NGO’s, SME’s and other stakeholders to meet the requirement of the local people.
Changing business focus
Some logistics firm found there was a surge in business during the initial days of the coronavirus outbreak but it changed once the national lockdown was announced. Akshay Ghulati, CBO and Co-founder of Shiprocket- eCommerce logistics and shipping software solution, said the with more people making purchases online, there was a growth in business. However, business had come to a standstill post-lockdown for almost a week before the online firm was able to start deliveries of essential goods. “We continue to help sellers with the shipping of essential goods, but it is a small fraction of our overall business. The supply chains of our sellers are impacted as many of their shipments are stuck in China or at ports, thereby impacting their ability to function. However, currently deliveries of non-essential goods in India is banned thus mitigating the impact, but there will be a huge backlog to overcome once the lockdown lifts,” Ghulati said.
Some like Moglix—which provides B2B commerce services and procurement solutions in India, USA, UK, Singapore and Indonesia—said its current focus is to support the essential services within India and enable the healthcare providers with 'protective equipment. "With the statewide and national restrictions, we are trying to follow a localisation strategy, complying with the region-specific norms issued by the authorities the countries of operation," the company said. The firm is focusing on serving hospitals, healthcare professionals, pharma, food companies who are maintaining the essential services. As a next step, utilities companies in energy, oil, water, sanitation etc. will also need MRO items to keep their critical operations running safely and meet maintenance needs. Moglix has the supply chain network and expertise to enable hospitals, healthcare professionals, pharma, food companies, energy, oil among other sector and will be working with authorities to facilitate this support, the company said.
Some firms have launched apps to enable the booking, tracking and remote operation of shipments on the go. Digital freight forwarding startup Freightwalla recently launched their Android application on the Google Play store. The app offers all the services that their web platform offers, making it possible for logistics managers and business owners to plan, manage and track their shipments on their mobile screens. The app launch is part of a larger “work from anywhere, anytime” initiative, said Punit Java-Chief Technology Officer, Freightwalla.
Meanwhile, APM Terminals Pipavav is extending free storage service for all containers from 1-15 April 2020 (both days inclusive). Jakob Friis Sørensen, Managing Director, APM Terminals said, the Terminals will offer flexibility to its customers with extended logistic chain during the national lockdown. “The free storage facility at our port will help our customers to plan their onward land logistics suitably and help maintain the supply chain,” he added.
To ease the situation for truck drivers stuck on highways due to the lockdown, Locus, a global B2B SaaS company that automates human decisions in supply chain, has initiated the ‘Driver Seva mobile app’ project along with Highway Delite, a travel app startup. Supported by the Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd, in association with the All India Motor Transport Congress. Agarwal Packers and Movers Ltd (APML) is also a partner in this initiative. This app aims to help drivers in the current lockdown with information regarding food, water, and safe parking near their location, across the country, said Nishith Rastogi, CEO and Co-founder, Locus.
Clarity of information need of the hour
The major grouse against the authorities is the lack of clarity on notices. What is requires is a good coordination and clear transmission of information, said some of the logistics firms to Firstpost. There is not much clarity as of now about is allowed and not allowed, they said. The non-essential goods are stuck in the supply chain and have to be cleared to unclog hubs and warehouses. Despite essential goods being allowed, many sellers of these goods are not being allowed to open their warehouses by the State authorities, thus rendering this permission useless, they said.
A few executives received harsh treatment from on-the-ground authorities when trying to deliver goods, said Akshay Ghulati, co-founder, Shiprocket. "This problem is now being overcome as on- the-ground authorities have more information and curfew passes are being given to executives for delivery of essential goods. We are working to overcome this challenge by on-boarding new partners on our platform who have their own network for intracity deliveries to ensure essential shipments are not impacted. We also expect intercity shipments for essential goods to be started soon with our existing courier partners," he said.
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