E-commerce companies delivering essentials like groceries, medicines and food are facing attacks and harassment from law enforcement officials and security guards, 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.
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.
Our delivery executives are selflessly putting their safety at risk to ensure people stay indoors and get all their essentials at home. And then they get stopped and harassed by police and local goons. Who are we really clapping for at 5pm today?— Saurabh Kumar (@theknownface) March 22, 2020
Despite assurances that grocery is an essential service and @grofers should continue to operate, police and local authorities continue to shut warehouses. All the proactive initiatives of govt and central authorities is going to waste because of overzealous enforcement agencies.— Saurabh Kumar (@theknownface) March 23, 2020
Home Delivery Associates are doing the job of Rashtra Rakshaks, serving a noble cause of delivering food and grocery, but across the country, we are facing hurdles in delivering orders, request you to declare home delivery as an essential service.@PMOIndia— Freshtohome - 100% Fresh 0% Chemicals (@myfreshtohome) March 23, 2020
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.
@PMOIndia@cmohry@narendramodi@BJP4Haryana#milkbasket why milkbasket delivery guys are being harassed? Ain't milk and groceries considered as essentials? During the lockdown time, when there is so much of shortage of all the essentials, they had to dump 1000s of litres of milk pic.twitter.com/AnkC3XGMQN— Swati Walia (@Swati_w) March 24, 2020
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, the central government at a news conference said it was taking steps to ensure smooth delivery of basic necessities.
Separately, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said: "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 and Noida Police also tweeted that it had asked policemen to allow delivery services.
All officers of Gurugram Police have been directed that following online delivery services @zomato@flipkart@amazon@bluedart @wow_express @swiggy@groffers@bigbasket@milkbasket@dunzo@bigbazzar@Iffco Tokyo goods shall be allowed to operate.— Gurugram Police (@gurgaonpolice) March 25, 2020
IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR RESIDENTS OF #NOIDA— POLICE COMMISSIONERATE NOIDA (@noidapolice) March 25, 2020
All identified home delivery personnel of ITC, Grofers, Milk Basket, BigBasket, Zomato, Harvest Gold, EasyDay and Spencer are allowed smooth movement as they fall under essential services category. #IndiaFightsCoronahttps://t.co/2sIy40gBRn
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.