The government has formed a ministerial level committee to mitigate supply chain problems as India undergoes one of the longest curfews in history.
Headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah, the committee has been tasked with ensuring unhindered supply of essential items during the lockdown. Seven secretaries from the ministries of consumer affairs, road transport, civil aviation, shipping, textile, health and Chairman of the Railway Board are part of the committee which will meet daily at 11 AM through video conferencing
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a 21-day lockdown- the most far reaching measure by any government to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The move, which experts believe is essential, but hastily drawn has thrown the country’s logistics system into disarray as local administrations are confused the over interpretation of the government orders.
“The biggest need is now that all administration work in tandem and implement the orders in unison. Hence the committee has been formed which will collect daily inputs and ensure coordination to solve the issues,” said an official, who is part of the committee.
For instance, according to minutes of the meeting held yesterday, Priyank Bharti, a joint secretary in the road transport ministry raised the issue of truckers facing the shortage of food on their way as all roadside eateries are closed. He also mentioned that local police authorities were stopping goods carriers.
Following that home ministry issued an instruction to all chief secretaries to ensure movement of people associated with transport of essential supplies and precisely classifying them.
Officials who attended the meeting said that North Eastern states had raised the issue that supply of essential commodities including food and medicine had slowed down. “The hurdle was that there weren’t enough freighter jets available to ensure supply as aviation regulator DGCA wasn’t permitting passenger aircraft to be used for cargo transport. This has been sorted as of today as both Air India and private airlines are now being allowed to carry food and medicine supplies,” said a second official who is part of the committee.
On Saturday Air India used both A320 and smaller ATR aircraft to operate 12 flights to ferry medicine and food items to Imphal, Agartala, Bhubaneshwar and Raipur. Similarly private airline IndiGo operated two A320 aircraft carrying supplies.
US aerospace major Boeing has sent a proposal to Spicejet and Air India Express to convert their 737 passenger jets into freighter planes. “We are evaluating the proposal as passenger jets are anyway grounded now,” a SpiceJet executive said.
A senior official at Indian Railways said that following suggestion from the committee yesterday alone, 34648 wagons carried supplies to keep the supply chains functional. Of these, 23682 wagons of sugar, salt, coal and petroleum products were ferried by Indian Railways in 425 rakes to ensure that the supply chains keep functioning. The total number of wagons carrying essential commodities during the past five days thus reached approximately 1,25,000.”The priority for the national transporter’s focus will be on delivery of essential commodities like rice, wheat, sugar, salt and vegetables. In the last three days, we have already increased the loading of essential commodities.
With the committee too in place, we would ensure that these goods are delivered covering the long distance. To monitor the uninterrupted movement of essential commodities over Indian Railway system, an emergency freight control is working in the Ministry of Railways, said a statement by the Indian Railways.” said a senior Railways official.
Executives of consumer goods companies say that the committee should be flexible enough to change the definition of essential and non-essential commodities.
“We have factories in Maharashtra and Karnataka which produce Sodium Hypochlorite which is used as raw material to manufacture disinfectants. With the lockdown we are unable to manufacture and distribute these chemicals to hospitals or residential complex. This needs to be put in essential commodities,” said an executive of 3M an MNC in health care product. Pawan Kumar Agarwal, secretary of consumer affairs raised the issue in the meeting on Saturday.
“The term essential is generalised. Many such items which weren’t essential under the government act framed have become essential now,” said SP Singh, senior fellow and coordinator, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training adding that due to this truckers are now stranded with goods on the highway as factories have been shut.