Wearing a mask and gloves in hands, Pappu Sahni (38) sanitises his hands every time he hands over a packet of fresh Verka milk, curd, lassi, paneer or a box of fresh kheer to his customers in Ludhiana’s Bhai Randhir Singh (BRS) Nagar.
With no customer to ferry amid the curfew, Pappu’s battery-operated e-rickshaw now gets loaded with fresh dairy products from Verka — the brand owned by the Punjab State Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation (MILKFED) — every morning and he sets off to sell milk products door to door. A banner at the back of his vehicle advertising Verka products reads — ‘Phulo Palo, Pure Khao Pio’, as it makes the round of his assigned block – B and D – in BRS Nagar.
Verka, which has one of its largest milk plants on Ludhiana’s Ferozepur Road, has started an initiative to run mobile milk booths along with a Ludhiana-based e-rickshaw manufacturing firm. As part of the plan, e-rickshaw drivers get a margin of five per cent on daily sales they clock.
While several migrants in Ludhiana preferred moving back to their native places after losing their source of income during the lockdown, Pappu on the other hand found a reason to stay back.
He says that with the five per cent margin from selling Verka products, the day’s earnings for him are sometimes more than what he was earned by ferrying passengers before the lockdown.
“Yesterday, I sold products worth Rs 17,000 and I was given the margin of Rs 750. That is enough to buy groceries for the day and run my home. I have four children. Before the lockdown, sometimes I used to earn Rs 500-600 only by ferrying passengers. Now, at times, I earn Rs 900 a day when Verka products are sold-out,” says Pappu, who hails from Samastipur in Bihar.
“If I wasn’t given this opportunity, it would have been difficult to move out of home and find work. I would have struggled to feed my kids. Other daily wagers living in my neighborhood are sitting free at home. They are asking me if they too can get this opportunity, but they do not have e-rickshaw,” says Pappu, whose wife works as a domestic help. “Initially there were issues and people questioned if we were selling authentic Verka products, but now they know we get direct supply,” he says, adding that no fuel expenditure is a relief as he just has to recharge the battery of vehicle.
He maintains at least 1 metre distance while taking orders, doesn’t enter anyone’s home and, if possible, leaves the products at the doorstep and picks up money that customers leave there.
Like him, at least 50 other e-rickshaw drivers in Ludhiana have now been employed during curfew with their e-rickshaws turned into mobile milk booths. These drivers cover areas like Haibowal, Aggar Nagar, BRS Nagar, Barewal Road among others in the city.
Another driver, Rajiya (52) from Bihar, says “There is no reason for us to move back to our homes. All drivers supplying Verka products in e-rickshaws are getting Rs 700-1,000 a day. That is how much we used to earn normally too ferrying passengers.”
It was e-rickshaw company, Longman Power & Motors, entered into a tie-up with Verka so that drivers – most of whom purchased their vehicles on EMIs from the firm — aren’t unemployed during curfew and do not move back to their native places.
Now every morning, these e-rickshaw drivers get their vehicles loaded with fresh Verka milk products and start delivery. By noon they finish selling the perishable milk products and are paid their cut on the spot.
While facilitating this process with Verka, company’s founder and MD, Anil Gupta (60), has also decided not to take installments from e-rickshaw drivers till the curfew is on.
“Our main aim was to see that my drivers do not sit free and do not have to move to their native places. They should have some source of livelihood so we tied up with Verka so that their essential products also reach homes and our drivers are also benefited. We have around 300 e-rickshaws in Ludhiana of which almost 50 are now supplying Verka milk products door to door. Although administration and police have been very cooperative in letting us mobile milk booths operate but they haven’t issued any formal passes to our e-rickshaws. We request administration to issue passes to e-rickshaws supplying Verka products,” says Gupta.
Crediting his wife Savita Gupta for this idea, he adds: “We have given lump sum amount to Verka so that they give us products. Whatever distribution margin they are giving us, we are not keeping it for our profit. Instead we are passing it to our drivers. We are giving them at least 5 per cent for sales recorded each day. It roughly means that each driver is earning Rs 500-1000 a day. We are ready to provide at least 100 more drivers but they are scared to operate without passes.” Apart from passes, Gupta points out that at some places even Verka’s dealers and local shop owners create problems for the drivers.
But he adds that model has been liked as administrations of Jalandhar, Mohali are also eager to replicate it and have reached out.
After selling Verka products by noon, the company now is roping in the same drivers for its ‘Grocery on Wheels’ initiative.
Dharminder Singh Grewal, area officer marketing, Ludhiana Verka Milk Plant said that 8 milk trays, 8 boxes of curd and kheer each, five trays of fresh lassi and 8 kg of paneer are loaded in each e-rickshaw daily.
“At least 1,584 litres milk is being supplied daily door to door through e-rickshaws. Drivers are getting 500-900 on an average from distributor margin. It is a win-win situation for both drivers who are mostly migrants and customers,” he said.
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