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BENGALURU : After five days of the lockdown, e-commerce and other online delivery companies are still struggling to obtain permits to operate warehouses and deliver food, medicines and other essential items to customers.

Companies said that there is little coordination, not only between the central government and states but within states too, as different cities in a single state cite varying criteria to issue permits. In some cities, firms have received permits to operate warehouses but are waiting to receive passes for workers to deliver orders.

In addition, firms are expecting a shortage of labour as thousands of migrants from cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru have been trying to return to their homes amid the chaos unleashed by the sudden lockdown announced late on 24 March.

An executive at a grocery delivery firm said, seeking anonymity, that a lack of coordination between the Centre and states about what constitutes essential services and the process for issuing permits is resulting in delays in obtaining permits. Another e-commerce executive said that there was no standard procedure across cities and states for obtaining permits, resulting in delays and uncertainty. Many warehouses operated by e-commerce companies were still shut as of Sunday afternoon, and only a small number of their delivery workers had passes to make deliveries.

“...Last Wednesday, state governments and local law authorities did intervene but, on the ground, every state has its own template and there are different passes for each city within each state. There are multiple levels of jurisdiction and intervention within a state. A self-certification mode would be helpful or a central format which every state would follow," this person said.

m.Paani, a startup that connects local retailers with customers in Mumbai and other cities, said retailers have been facing issues in getting permits for essential services.

“Given that most stores are already functioning on lower staff capacity at present, getting passes from local authorities was creating hiccups. It is these stores that are in (greater) need of access to e-passes because they have a grassroots presence," said Akanksha Hazari, founder of m.Paani.

Hazari noted that during the initial stages of the lockdown many smaller grocery stores on m.Paani’s platform were forced to shut because of the lack of clarity on essential services.

To be sure, firms said city authorities are responding to their complaints and have been issuing permits in larger numbers over the past three days. Due to the lockdown, Amazon India is unable to predict timelines for delivery of items other than those deemed essential by the government. The firm will first fulfil existing orders for essential products and will accept new orders only for essential items, an Amazon India spokesperson said.

After a period of uncertainty, 90% of Grofers’ warehouses are operational and the company has obtained permits for about 50% of its delivery staff, said Rohit Sharma, head of supply chain at Grofers. Still, delivery times will be longer as the authorities had forced the company to suspend its operations for a few days, he said.

Romita Majundar from Mumbai contributed to the story.

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