In a welcome move on Sunday, the Centre removed the restrictions it had imposed on the transportation of goods, allowing the movement of both essential and non-essential goods across the country. As some non-essential items are key ingredients in the production of essential goods, and certain items deemed non-essential may well be essential for some, ensuring an uninterrupted supply was of critical importance. But this step alone may not be enough to ensure the smooth flow of goods across the country. The massive exodus of casual wage labour from the metropolis that is being witnessed across the country is now beginning to lead to labour shortages not only in the transportation sector but across the supply chain. These labour shortages will lead to disruptions not only in the production of essential goods, but in the supply of essential and non-essential items as well. Given the situation, it is conceivable that the situation is unlikely to return to normal immediately even when the lockdown is lifted.
Truck drivers have reportedly fled to their villages following the sealing of inter-state borders, with some leaving behind vehicles loaded with goods along the highway. There are reports of a building shortage of agriculture labour. In Punjab and Haryana, where it is time to harvest wheat, and in Telangana which is sitting on a bumper paddy crop, farmers are struggling to find labour during the lockdown. For Punjab and Haryana, the lockdown has also meant that harvesting machines are stuck in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh where harvesting happens earlier. This could potentially cause disruptions in the supply of essential goods down the line. Add to this the fact that factories across the country draw on migrant labour from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other eastern states. For them, getting the workforce back to re-start production, after the lockdown is lifted, might be difficult.
Currently, the sale of goods is largely being fed by drawing on the pre-lockdown inventory. As and when these stocks run out, given the curtailment of production and problems with transportation, this will restrict supply to the end consumer. There are already reports of erratic supplies of food and essentials causing panic and confusion in Goa, for instance. It is imperative for the government to formulate protocols to enable factories to start production as soon as possible, and for ensuring the uninterrupted supply of essential goods.
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