Assurance of support and required facilities by state authorities to the essential commodities markets and distribution channels has come as a reprive. While labour shortage remains a challenge, traders are coping by convincing local labourers.
The slump in demand for commodities such as edible oils, vegetables, and grains — following the closure of hotels, restaurants and road-side eateries — has reduced the burden somewhat. However, farmers are eager to sell their produce, during the harvest season.
Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have taken measures to smoothen rabi crop harvesting, while Azadpur mandi has returned to normalcy.
In most areas, direct selling by farmers to retailers is on full swing, while mandis are calling for lesser quantities of perishables. Import of oilseeds that had arrived on ports but weren’t getting clearance due to closure, have been granted the same. Crushing units and refineries are operating with thinner capacities. The rest are in the process of organising essential passes from the respective authorities for their staff, workers, and even transporters.
In Navi Mumbai, several restrictions have been imposed on wholesale mandis to avoid gatherings, and timings have been staggered. However, most mandis dealing in essentials have started functioning. Grain market, vegetables, onion-potato all have resumed operations with staggered timing for loading, unloading and traders.
Warehouses are also organising passes for their staff. In Gujarat, however, there was a government flip-flop. Grain APMCs had been told on Wednesday to open markets, but on Thursday said that they had spoken to farmers and traders, with all of them having agreed to resume after a few days. The change followed a representation by traders that they would prefer to remain shut, given the accounts closure. Now, they will open on April 2.
The notification comes at a time when large quantity of oilseeds, grains, spices and pulses could be lying with the farmers as most of the APMCs had been voluntarily shut since Sunday. While the government has still assured availability of vegetables, grains and pulses, other essentials like edible oil have been impacted.
“There are only 10 per cent of groundnut crushing units operational due to lockdown while transport of raw materials of other edible oil such as cottonseed and palmolein oil has been affected as trucks are not being allowed to ply. Moreover, workers are afraid of both coronavirus spread as well as police excess amidst the lockdown and are not coming to work. Even ports have been closed though raw materials are lying at warehouses near them,” said Sameer Shah, president of Saurashtra Oil Mills Association.
In UP, the country’s sugar bowl producing 40 per cent of sugar, the state government instructed district administrative and police officials to ensure seamless conduct of their operations and movement of goods from farmers bringing cane to mills and outflow of sugar.
“So far, there has not been any major hurdle being faced by the UP mills, although the situation can not be termed as normal. The state sugarcane department has also sought the reports from the mills regarding any difficulties being faced by them to transport their raw or finished goods,” UP Sugar Mills Association (UPSMA) secretary Deepak Guptara told Business Standard here today.
UP horticulture and food processing director S B Sharma has directed the district officials to ensure prompt storage of horticultural crops, including potato, in cold storages to protect them from wilting. In Gujarat, Kandla and Mundra ports have resumed functioning for handling essential commodities. There are some procedural issues like for edible oil they need health department clearance before reliving edible oil stock but crushing industry has proposed to allow crude oil consignment released. Those ships that are coming from far distance places like Argentina, Brazil are taking longer time and hence their 14 day quarantine time gets over during high seas but short distance ships may take a few more days before their consignments are unloaded.
Adani refinery work on low capacity
Even organised edible oil players like Adani Wilmar have also been impacted with inventory coming down from the usual 15 days to now eight days.
“Daily production is lesser than sales right now. Since we don't have enough stock we are producing smaller stock keeping units of one litre packs of edible oil. This way we will be catering to more number of people instead of producing five or more litres packs. However, the government needs to ensure that all kinds of oil being essential commodity, inter-state movement should not be hampered amidst the lockdown,” Adani Wilmar deputy chief executive officer Angshu Mallick told Business Standard.
MP, Rajasthan arrange smooth harvesting of rabi crops
“The situation is improving day by day after passed being issued to small trucks carrying vegetables and fruits from neighbouring states and will further ease out in the coming days,” said Rajendra Sharma, president of Onion Merchants Association in Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi said.
“Most hammals and mathadis (labourers) of Azadpur mandi stay within the mandi premises and we are looking at issuing daily passes for them so that their movement isn’t hampered and work goes on smoothly,” Sharma said.
While the mandis in big cities and towns is slowly coming on track, in the hinterland it is still difficult to get supplies.
Madhya Pradesh, the state government has allowed movement of combine harvesters, tractors and threshers with maximum three persons on-board so that farmers can harvest their crop, but grain mandis aren’t being allowed to function. “In villages too almost all shops except medical stores and vegetable shops are open while for the rest there is clampdown,” said Bhagwan Meena, a farmer leader from MP.
In Rajasthan, too the Ashok Gehlot government has also issued guidelines for farmers on how to undertake harvesting of their rabi crops while at the same time maintaining social-distancing. A separate set of guidelines were issued for farm labourers as well.