Top panel to look into logistic issues; MHA issues SOP to fix supply chain

Avishek G Dastidar
Coronavirus, COVID 19, india lockdown, india lockdown essential goods, indian economy, india lockdown food supply

A railway worker sprays disinfectants on a train in Jammu on Wednesday amid the coronavirus lockdown. (Photo: PTI)

Identifying the delivery of essential items as key to the success of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, the government has formed a high-level inter-departmental Logistics Committee for COVID-19 Relief Operations. This committee comprises six Secretaries, Chairman Railway Board and others to sort out all issues related to supplies.

On Thursday, the Home ministry issued a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for states to ensure the smooth running of the supply chain during the lockdown. It identified restaurants supplying home delivery of food as essential, among others. “Large brick and mortar stores or e-commerce companies would be allowed to operate ensuring strict social distancing,” states the letter to states and Union Territories.

The government’s nine-member logistics committee is convened by Secretary, Pharmaceu-ticals, and has members from Health, Civil Aviation, Railways, Textiles, Consumer Affairs, Shipping and senior officials from the Department of Military Affairs and Home Ministry.

According to sources, the committee was formed and the SOP issued following a meeting at the Home ministry on Wednesday on the issue of logistics, where the government conveyed that doorstep delivery of essentials was key to the success of the lockdown.

The meeting, the sources said, was also attended by representatives from e-commerce companies. “By essentials, we don’t just mean foodgrains, medicines, milk and such conventional items, but also a host of items that are considered key to daily lives, especially in the doorstep delivery space,” an official who attended the meeting told The Indian Express.

The SOP issued by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla says, “It is therefore important that availability of essential goods is ensured to relieve the hardship faced by people during the period of lockdown.” The SOP identifies small local retail shops and e-commerce companies as vital to the availability of essential goods.

“Transporters/drivers/loaders etc of essential goods from the place of manufacture to wholesale and/or retailer. Such transportation may involve intra-city, inter-city in same state/UT or inter state movement.” states the SOP, listing the services exempted during the lockdown.

It also said employees involved in such supply chains should be allowed to commute on the basis of e-pass or certification by local authorities.

Even as Railways moved less foodgrain on Thursday than it did the previous day, officials said most places in the country are now well-stocked with foodgrain and essentials. “Coal-based power plants have sufficient stock of coal, too, so there is no emergency on that front right now,” said a government official.

Owing to lack of labour, officials estimate that a huge volume of consignment is getting piled up at warehouses and if it is not cleared, it might lead to operational issues in the coming days. “However, we have seen that after proactive efforts of the government and the states over the past two days, the coordination issues are easing and we expect them to be gone by Friday,” said the official.

The government has activated several helplines for transporters to reach out to in such cases. “The Logistics Committee for COVID-19 Relief Operations shall make available transport and other logistics services. including air transport, road and rail transport. The Committee will ensure that the logistics and transport requirement of central, state, other government bodies and Private Institutions for medical and other essential supplies are met without delay,” the order from the Cabinet Secretariat says.

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