The Home Ministry has directed states and union territories to allow transportation of essential and non-essential items during lockdown.
In yet another change in guidelines for enforcing the lockdown, the Centre on Sunday allowed transport of “all goods” and not just essential commodities.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla sent a letter to chief secretaries of all states and UTs clarifying what is allowed as per the latest order. This followed a video conference of trade and industry stakeholders with Railways and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal on Saturday, where they said a protocol must be set in place so that factories can start production again, and that existing stocks would last only around three more weeks.
The Home Secretary’s letter said, “transportation of all goods, without distinction of essential and non-essential, (has) been allowed”. “Groceries include hygiene products such as handwashes, soaps, disinfectants, body wash, shampoos, surface cleaners, detergents and tissue papers, toothpaste/oral care, sanitary pads and diapers, battery cells, chargers etc,” it said, adding that newspaper supply chain was also included in this.
Praveen Khandelwal, national secretary general of the Confederation of All India Traders, who attended the video conference, told The Indian Express, “The wholesalers of all essentials across India have stocks that would last up to around 20 more days, we told the government. So it was conveyed that if production is not resumed slowly, then there might be a problem in the long run.”
A timeline of how long the stocks might last without production was also discussed, with the industry and traders saying that retailers had stocks for just five days and these would need to be replenished, with uninterrupted transportation. “Industry players said law enforcement authorities in states were not allowing the movement of a number of items, saying these were not essential commodities,” a government official said.
Sources said government representatives, including Goyal, took the projection and feedback “positively”.
Sources said industry players as well as officials had pointed out to the government multiple times over the past week that essential items should also mean grocery products needed for the smooth running of households. The letter by the Home Secretary also allows services of Indian Red Corss personnel.
Industry stakeholders told the government that the protocol for factories to start running again could include truncated manpower. “We said let there be a health protocol for workers and maybe allow 50 per cent staff to come to factories,” Khandelwal said.
Following the meeting, the government issued the new circular to states on movement of “all goods”.
On Sunday, the Railways also announced that it would run additional parcel trains to aid the supply chain of essential commodities, including “dairy products, medical equipment, medicines, groceries and edible oil”. This is expected to help e-commerce companies especially, which are facing transportation issues due to the lockdown.
While eight parcel specials have been run since March 22, additional trains are being planned on 20 routes. One such train set off on Sunday with products of FMCG major Nestle, from Moga ion Punjab to Changsari in Assam.