Reasons: Lack of manufacturing and disruption in transport
Adilin Beatrice C
Tiruchirapalli: Grocery shops in Tamil Nadu are running out of essential supplies. Public apprehend that the lack of food products might bring starvation.
Flora Carolin (name changed), who runs a grocery store in Chennai for the past 30 years, said: “This is the first time companies and the traders said they don’t have stocks to supply. My shop is already half empty. We don’t have any basic food products left. Essentials like oil, rava and chilli powder are running out of stock. We didn’t receive any of them in the past 20 days. There are many reasons for this. The production is very less, there’s trouble in the transport sector, some traders stock essentials and sell them once prices spike. These are making the situation worse.”
Still, Carolin opens her shop every day believing she will receive essential commodities soon.
Saravanan N, another grocery shop owner, said he goes to a shopping mart nearby to buy food products. “It will be very bad if we send back our customers saying that we don’t have stock. If we turn them down now, they might prefer to buy goods from other shops when the situation gets better. So I buy essential commodities from a shopping mart for full price and sell it to customers without any profit. This is a grave situation. I’m trying my best to handle it,” he shared.
Usually, grocery shops get most of their food-product supplies through company trucks, or from traders, on a daily or weekly basis. Because of the lockdown, traders are unable to supply regularly.
Read our story about lack of food supply in rural areas amidst the lockdown.
Infant Samuel, an employee of a private company, had to go to six grocery stores before he could get a 2-kg packet of wheat flour. “There are six people in our family. A 2-kg wheat flour packet will be over in 2-3 days. It is horrific to think I will have to again go shop to shop asking for food products. It is not just wheat that the shops lack. Most small grocery shops look deserted with no stock. If this situation continues, people will start falling sick due to starvation rather than (get) Covid-19,” he said.
Shaik Kareemullah, a college professor, lamented that the food-supply situation is worsening by the day. “When the government announced the lockdown, I went to a grocery shop to buy essential supplies. They were over in a week. When I went to the same shop again to buy goods, it was nearly empty. The shop owner grumbled that they didn’t receive supplies since the lockdown. I have asked my family members to eat less. This is creepy, but if the lack of food continues, then we might be pushed to starvation one day,” he added.
The transport department of Tamil Nadu has not restricted the travel of goods vehicles. Still, the lack of essential commodities continues as there is a huge shortfall in manufacturing.
Tenkasi S Jawahar, transport commissioner of Tamil Nadu, said: “We allow the movement of goods vehicles. But we have given guidelines: like only two people can travel in a goods vehicle – a driver and a helper – and their temperature must be checked at state borders. The transport department has distributed around 6,000 passes among lorry drivers. The district collectors were asked to conduct a meeting with the lorry drivers to instruct them on the guidelines. We still observe that the movement of food supply vehicle is less. This could be because of minimum manufacturing in the food sector.”
Sajjan Raj Mehta, a trade activist, agreed that the production of food items has reduced drastically during the lockdown. “Employees are not ready to work even when companies agree to pay them well. They, too, are scared of the situation and prefer to stay home. Due to this, the transport of essential commodities is thin. Companies could come up with a plan to ensure that the employees don’t contact Covid-19 when they work in industries,” he said.
Grocery stores come under the essential services category, which means they can remain open and serve people during the lockdown. Shops selling groceries and vegetables are allowed to be open between 6 am and 1 pm. As a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Tamil Nadu government has banned the entry of vehicles from Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh borders into the state from March 21 to March 31. It was later revoked and the transport government gave an exception to vehicles that carry essential commodities.