The supply of essentials such as groceries and vegetables is set to ease gradually over the next few days as States have started issuing passes for the movement of vehicles carrying food items.

States such as Karnataka, West Bengal and Delhi have started issuing passes for vehicles and people involved in essential services since Wednesday. Gujarat has ordered APMCs in the State to resume auctions for agri-commodities including grains and pulses, while Karnataka has allowed grocers and supermarkets to remain open 24 hours a day.

The 21-day nationwide lock-down had led to panic buying from Tuesday night, resulting in a spike in prices of mostly perishables. The Centre has been maintaining that there are enough food stocks in the country. However, the supplies have been disrupted due to the curbs on movement of vehicles carrying vegetables. Even if loaded vehicle are allowed to move around, the drivers face problems while returning post delivery with empty vehicles, suppliers said.

Online deliveries

Tech-enabled organised suppliers of fruit and vegetables, such as Ninjacart and Waycool, expect the supply chain to normalise soon. On Tuesday, Ninjacart, a large supplier of perishables handling daily volumes of around 1,200 tonnes of fruits and vegetables, could maintain supplies in cities such as Chennai and Bengaluru, said Thirukumaran Nagarajan, CEO.

“The Bengaluru police has issued about 4,000 passes for our employees and vehicles, through which we have been able to procure vegetables from farmers and supply them in cities,” he said. However, bottlenecks remain at State borders, which need to be resolved for smooth inter-State movement of vehicles carrying essentials.

Ninjacart procures fruits and vegetables from over 165 collection centres across the country, to deliver them to grocers in large cities including Pune and Delhi.

Nagarajan said the lock-down has forced many farmers to sell their produce at the farm gates. “There is a surge in the number of farmers selling to us at our procurement centres and we are purchasing on a first-come-first-serve basis,” he said.

“There is no supply issue per se . It is only a supply chain issue. We anticipate the situation to ease in a day or two,” said Karthik Jayaraman, who is part of the founding team of Waycool Foods and Products.

Waycool operates 45-50 hubs, largely in South of India, purchasing fruits and vegetables from 5,000-6,000 farmers at any point in time, handling volumes of about 250 tonnes a day.

Demand for bread, milk and meat

In the markets of Kolkata, some vegetables like leafy greens and cauliflower saw a spike in price, while others like potato and tomato are largely stable. Stocks are low due to panic buying, but market committees are assuring people they will be replenished in the coming days. Miking is being done across localities to raise awareness against hoarding.

Some essentials like milk and bread are in short supply in select markets of Kolkata, but assurances are being given of increasing supplies over the next few days. “The problem is many people who supply the bread to stores or are making the bread at factories are back home. Hence, supplies are short,” a retailer said.

Fish, across major markets, remains in short supply. Mostly fresh water fish is available. The price of rohu (among the widely consumed fishes of the State) is ₹250-400/kg (20-50 per cent jump) depending on the demand in local markets.

“No new fish stock are coming in from places like Andhra Pradesh. Plus, major wholesale fish markets along the city fringes have very few sellers. Local train are suspended, too, so people are not bringing in new stock,” a fish vendor said.

(With inputs from Abhishek Law in Kolkata and Rahul Wadke in Mumbai)