Truckloads of green vegetables are rotting in Delhi’s Azadpur wholesale market, alleged traders from the largest commercial hub for perishables in India, even as consumers in the national capital scrambled for essentials in the wake of the countrywide lockdown announced on Tuesday night to keep rising Covid-19 infections in check.
“At least 70 trucks of green vegetables each weighing 15 tonnes are rotting since retailers and shopkeepers are unable to reach the market," said Anil Malhotra, member of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee, Azadpur.
Malhotra added that the situation has worsened since 21 March due to a transport lockdown in several states, and consumers in the national capital region will likely face an acute shortage of fresh produce if the police and administration do not allow buyers to reach the wholesale market.
Mint spoke to several traders from Azadpur who confirmed that the arrival of perishables from different states was down by more than half the usual volumes.
“On Tuesday, only 25 trucks of potatoes reached the mandi compared to over 300 trucks on Saturday. Since there are no buyers, we are asking farmers not to send produce and stop harvesting," said Dinesh Kumar, a potato trader.
By this weekend, fruits may vanish from stores in Delhi, warned another trader, who did not want to be named. The government needs to instruct the police not to harass retailers and truck drivers coming from different states, he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi decreed a countrywide lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus infections in his address to the nation on Tuesday night.
Following PM Modi’s speech, the Union home ministry issued an order exempting essential services, including transport of food items, to ensure availability to consumers.
However, the order does not explicitly allow for the operation of wholesale markets for farm commodities.
“While trucks carrying produce like bananas, oranges and tomatoes were allowed to enter Delhi, drivers are being harassed by police when they leave with empty trucks," said an official from a leading Delhi-based retail chain who did not want to be named.
On Wednesday, a huge quantity of perishable produce was dumped in cities such as Hyderabad and Bengaluru due to the lockdown, said Pankaj Khandelwal, chairman and managing director of Mumbai-based INI Farms, which supplies fruits to several urban centres.
“We are hopeful that the situation will improve once governments issue curfew passes and online delivery platforms resume operations," he added.
App-based food delivery platform Milkbasket said on Wednesday that it had to dump 15,000 litres of milk and 10,000kg of fresh fruits and vegetables since it could not deliver to consumers in Noida and Gurugram.
However, allowing online retailers to supply to consumers may not be enough to fix the supply-side disruption across the country. On the back end, state governments and the Centre will need to allow farmers to bring fresh produce to the wholesale markets.
“I sent 200 bags of potatoes to Delhi on Saturday but my produce is yet to be sold," said Deepak Sharma, a farmer from Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh. Due to the lockdown we are also unable to purchase seeds and fertilizers for the next planting, added Sharma.