New Delhi, Mar 30 (PTI) Seeking to contain mass spread of the deadly coronavirus, several states on Monday effectively sealed their borders to stop movement of migrant workers rendered jobless due to a nationwide lockdown, but FMCG firms flagged non-availability of trucks and labour as a major challenge in ensuring supply of essential goods.
The Supreme Court also observed that fear and panic becoming was becoming 'a bigger problem than the coronavirus', but stopped short of passing any order and sought a report from the government by Tuesday.
As the 21-day naionwide lockdown entered its sixth day, reports from various parts of the country showed curbs put in place to fight the COVID-19 crisis beginning to impact supplies of essential goods as available inventory dwindled and fresh stocks were hard to come by.
Amid rumours about a possible extension of the lockdown, the government had to debunk them, while the Army also stepped in to dismiss as fake news the social media posts about a possible declaration of emergency in April.
A day after the central government relaxed some lockdown conditions to allow transportation of all goods, irrespective of those being in essential or non-essential categories, the FMCG companies said availability of workers at factories and trucks for transportation remain key challenges to meet the demand for essential items.
The companies, however, said approvals for plant operations and transportation of goods have eased difficulties in movement of raw materials and finished products, assuring steady supply of essential items.
Addressing local issues in many states that have hindered movement of goods would help in kick-starting the functioning of the supply chain, they said.
'But, the key issue that still remains is the availability of manpower and workers to run these operations. With most workers either leaving for their home towns or staying at home during the lockdown, it would be a challenge to ensure smooth functioning,' Dabur India Executive Director (Operations) Shahrukh Khan told PTI.
Sharing similar experience, an ITC spokesperson said, 'While we have progressively obtained permissions in some states, availability of trucks continues to be the biggest challenge at the moment. Interstate and local truck movement has been severely impacted together with the challenge of shortage of manpower in factories.' Expressing similar views, Parle Products Senior Senior Category Head Mayank Shah said, 'The biggest challenge today is manpower... The new challenge facing the companies now is how to continue running their plants in absence of labour.' Most of the labours in manufacturing plant are migrant workers. With they moving back to native places, there is going to be a huge challenge, he added.
Even many poor beneficiaries registered under the Public Distribution System (PDS), who are pinning their hopes on free and subsidised ration supplies for their survival during the COVID-19 lockdown, complained they are not wheat while flour mills are shut too.
In most parts of the country, local flour millers and chakki shops are not allowed to operate, while some are not willing to function due to fear of action by the police which is enforcing strictly the lockdown rules to stop the spread of the disease as the confirmed cases in the country has crossed the 1,000-mark.
In Punjab, the state government's decision to allow industrial units to commence their operations did not find favour, particularly among MSME segment, as many establishments said it is not feasible in view of rising coronavirus cases.
The state government on Sunday had said the owners of all industrial units and brick kilns could commence production if they have enough space to accommodate migrant labourers and provide them with food and take all hygiene precautions.
In the meantime, the Home Ministry issued orders to states and Union Territories to make it a personal responsibility of District Magistrates to arrange food and shelter for stranded workers waiting to reach their native places.
Addressing a press conference on Monday, Joint Secretary of Union Home Ministry Punya Salila Srivastava said the ministry has already issued orders asking landlords to not seek a month's rent from migrant workers and also to not ask for vacating their property.
On the issue of police beating workers who are walking to their native places in the absence of transport, she said while clear instructions have been issued to states and UTs to enforce lockdown, the ministry has also asked that the police be sensitied.
Officials said the Union Home Ministry is doing 24X7 monitoring of lockdown along with state government.
Haryana police said they have completely sealed all inter-state borders to prevent the movement of migrant workers, while the Uttarakhand government withdrew its earlier decision of allowing inter-district movement of people within the state.
The Delhi government announced that students from nursery to class 8 will be promoted to the next class in the national capital and also announced online classes for students of class 12 from first week of April.
In Delhi University also, professors and students have begun using digital platforms to continue studies, but slow internet speed and connectivity are emerging as key challenges.
Good samaritans, in the meantime, continued to pitch in in various regions by helping with delivery of food to the elderly to taking medicines to the sick, as also for fighting fake news on social media and for helping people with their groceries.
But, another problem seen emerging in Telangana and some other states after Kerala in the form of rising number of cases getting reported to hospitals for alcohol withdrawal symptomsd due to closure of liquor shops and bars. PTI TEAM BJ BJ