India Inc seeks clarity on essential goods

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani New Delhi | Updated on March 26, 2020

States and local administrations interpreting Central directive in different ways

India Inc is seeking more streamlined and centralised directive on the definition of essential goods, which will be allowed to be produced, transported and sold during the ongoing lockdown, as the country grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Industry executives stated that even as the Home Affairs Ministry has given a directive on essential goods, States and local administrations are keeping it vague and interpreting the order differently in different regions.

Industry associations across sectors are now calling for a streamlined and comprehensive directive from the Home Affairs Ministry, giving specifics on what constitutes essential goods. Others believe that such a directive will need to evolve with changing times in different phases of India’s battle with Covid-19.

Priority list

Some industry associations have sent out a suggested list of products that should be considered essential products to maintain a steady supply chain, to the Consumer Affairs Ministry, according to sources.

This include edibles including staples, tea, coffee and spices, processed and packaged foods, fresh produce, dairy, bakery products and juices, besides medicines and health supplements; non-edible products such as cleaning products, including soaps, detergents and oral care; personal hygiene products like sanitary pads, diapers and sanitisers, disinfectants, mosquito repellents and healthcare and medical equipment, among others.

Changing definitions

Some in the industry also believe even products that serve as ‘work from home’ enablers should be put in essential commodities, such as laptops, routers, power banks, mobile phones, cable, mouse and repair services.

A senior retail industry executive said, “The definition of essential goods may keep evolving with time. Food and hygiene products will remain the key priority but as the lockdown progresses, there may be shortages of other non-food products such as those for kids and elderly or technology products and devices.”

In addition, some other industry sources said that essential lighting and home furnishing products, kitchen essentials and related products can be brought into the ambit of essential goods at later stages.

Centralised curfew passes

Meanwhile, FMCG, retail and e-commerce companies have been raising concern about challenges around maintaining production, supply and last-mile delivery during the ongoing lockdown period. On the one hand they are facing issues in terms of transportation of workforce, raw material and packaging material, on the other hand they are urging support for operating warehouses and last-mile delivery. An executive from an e-commerce firm said, “Instead of local authorities issuing curfew passes manually at the local level in each district, this can be done digitally through a centralised mechanism across the country.”

Food supply chain vital

Meanwhile, in a statement, Varun Berry, MD , Britannia Industries said, “As reiterated by the Prime Minister, essential food commodities must be made available to people at all points in time and throughout the country to ensure that people don’t indulge in panic buying. The food industry supply chain is disaggregated and dependent on inter-State movement of goods. Due to the nature of the materials, inventories across the chain are low. If even one link in the supply chain is broken, the country could run out of stocks of packaged food in the next 7-10 days.”

“Thus it is imperative that the supply chain for food products be restored in entirety and allowed to function with adequate safety measures and police protection. The supply chain includes suppliers of raw materials and packaging materials, food manufacturing factories, factory workers, transporters carrying materials and finished goods, depots, wholesalers, distributors and their salesmen. Necessary permits need to be immediately issued to all of them,” he added.

Published on March 26, 2020

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