New Delhi, Mar 25, 2020: E-commerce companies delivering essentials like groceries, medicines and food are facing attacks and harassment from law enforcement officials leading to severe inconvenience in times of an unprecedented crisis, online retailers have said calling for an urgent intervention from the government. A huge amount of fresh produce had to be thrown away because of the disruptions, they said NDTV.
K Ganesh, promoter of online platforms like BigBasket, FreshMenu and Portea Medical, said that over the last few days, policemen have abused, assaulted and in one case even arrested a delivery agent leading to huge disruption in their activities.
"Even though the government has done absolutely the right step and has been categorical in exempting essential services and have specified essential services like online delivery of goods, groceries, food, medicines and medical equipment, that message has not gone to the people down the line," Mr Ganesh told NDTV.
"The cop there does not know that it’s an essential service, he has no mechanism to allow and disallow somebody. In many cases, they are being harsh, they are beating up people. In Kerala, one of our health workers going to service a patient was arrested," he said.
"People are risking their lives, please don’t beat them up. Challan them. If people run away because their colleagues are beaten up, we cannot do anything. Don’t beat up people trying to deliver goods and services," Mr Ganesh added.
The statement was echoed by online grocery retailer Grofers and meat delivery platform FreshToHome, which said they were facing obstructions in delivering from local authorities who were enforcing the coronavirus lockdown indiscriminately.
The disruptions have led to wastage as well. In a message to customers, grocery and milk delivery website MilkBasket it was forced to dump 15,000 litres of milk and 10,000 kg of vegetables. It said it will not be able to deliver fresh milk in Gurgaon, Noida and Hyderabad even on Day 2 of the lockdown.
Even takeaway restaurants are facing a similar crackdown. Arjun Jaiswal, founder of Baking Bad, a pizza delivery chain in Delhi NCR, alleged that staff on two-wheelers were caned by the Delhi Police.
The situation in Delhi is very bad, Mr Jaiswal said. "In the East on Kailash area in south Delhi, delivery boy riding bikes are being lathi-charged. In Noida, their phones were taken away while they tried to show proof. There is complete chaos."
Karan Nambiar of Captain Grub too repeated the allegations about the Noida Police. “The police has not given us any explanation on why delivery is not being allowed. The police are unaware of the rules and have violently been trashing our riders who are risking their own health at the time like this to ensure food is delivered to everyone who needs it," he said in a Facebook post.
Amid increasing reports of such incidents, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday said at a news conference: "We will issue e-passes to vegetable-sellers, grocers among others to ensure essential supplies during the lockdown."
Delhi Police public relations officer MS Randhawa told NDTV they will take action against policemen accused of attacking delivery executives.
Gurgaon Police also tweeted that it had asked policemen to allow delivery services.
States across India have seen instances of panic-buying and looting following announcements of lockdown, as people scrambled to stock up on basic necessities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised there will be no shortage of essentials but the targeting of delivery executives has jeopardised that assurance.
Shelves in New Delhi and Mumbai were stripped bare of staples like lentils and rice as India went into a 21-day shutdown aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus that has affected over 500 people across the country and killed at least nine.