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As 'Janata' goes for Curfew, small kirana and online groceries help India run

Paying heed to PM Modi's call for a voluntary 'Janata Curfew', people stayed indoors Sunday and life came to a standstill
  • Grofer's, Domino's, Zomato and Swiggy were all operating, taking refuge in their services being 'essential'
  • India wore a deserted look on Sunday responding to PM Modi's call for Janata Curfew on March 22. (Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)Premium
    India wore a deserted look on Sunday responding to PM Modi's call for Janata Curfew on March 22. (Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

    NEW DELHI: Following the Prime Minister's call for a 14-hour curfew in the country on Sunday, online service providers such as food delivery apps, and grocery retailers continued to provide essential services, while several small neighborhood grocery and dairy stores also opened their shutters.

    As the country's largest markets closed down, offline stores that sell apparel, electronics, accessories, and general goods remained shut across India.

    India went in to a country-wide curfew on Sunday to slow down movement of people as it tries to contain the global Coronavirus pandemic that has infected over 320 people in the country. The shutdown saw the country’s largest markets, busy bus stations, and roads turn empty starting early Sunday morning.

    The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said 60,000 commercial markets that employ 40 crore employees remained shut on Sunday. “No business activity will take place today," Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general, Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said.

    Small grocery stores, dairy booths, and pharmacies were exempted from the close down.

    Online retailer Flipkart said it continued making deliveries on Sunday so that consumers don't have to go outside their homes. The measure was taken in consultation with state and local authorities, a company spokesperson said.

    "We continue to take precautionary measures to ensure the safety of our delivery executives and customers and maintain a sanitised supply chain, while providing people around the country access to the products that they need, be it grocery, medical supplies like masks and sanitisers or other essential products," the spokesperson added.

    Late last week, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution said that it has issued necessary directions to state governments to ensure that couriers of e-commerce platforms are allowed to supply essential items without hassle. The ministry has asked state governments and local administrations to exempt e-commerce operations, their vendors, and third-party delivery partners from any prohibitory orders to ensure that consumers can access essential goods and services in case of strict lockdowns.

    Due to an unprecedented surge in demand, online retailer Grofers said it was fulfilling older orders on Sunday and taking new orders for deliveries in subsequent days, Rohit Sharma, head of supply chain at the company said.

    However, as an essential services business, the retailer is operating but at 60% capacity across India and 20% capacity in Mumbai—where it faced issues with local authorities on Sunday.

    Retailer's Association of India (RAI) said that its member stores⁠—except those selling medicines and daily essential⁠—remained closed on Sunday.

    Among the large restaurant chains, some chose to shutter outlets completely, while others continued online deliveries.

    McDonald’s restaurants in north and east India remained shut on Sunday, the fast food chain said.

    “As a responsible member of the community, we are also encouraging our employees to fully support the curfew," a company spokesperson said. The burger chain is complying with all local and state restaurant restrictions, wherever applicable.

    Online food ordering platform Swiggy said it is functioning as an essential service.

    “We urge all customers to only order in if they must. As an essential service, Swiggy will try and remain operational across most cities for customers in need. The entire revenue generated by Swiggy during this period will be used for the welfare of delivery partners," a company spokesperson said in response to a query from Mint.

    Online food ordering platform Zomato too continued to service diners but its listing showed several restaurants that were shut as part of the curfew. Delivery of pizzas from Jubilant FoodWorks' Domino’s outlets were unaffected.

    Walmart India that operates membership-based B2B business closed all its stores and fulfillment centres during the curfew hours on 22 March. The retailer said that to ensure supplies of essential items to the community, it has added more capacity to service orders that are placed through its website and app for delivery on 22 March and after.

    On Thursday, in his address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to maintain social distancing and only step out for necessary tasks. He called for all Indians to stay at home on Sunday between 7 am and 9pm as part of a "Janata Curfew" as India readies to fight the rapidly-spreading coronavirus.

    Suneera Tandon
    Suneera Tandon is a New Delhi based reporter covering consumer goods for Mint. Suneera reports on fast moving consumer goods makers, retailers as well as other consumer-facing businesses such as restaurants and malls. She is deeply interested in what consumers across urban and rural India buy, wear and eat. Suneera holds a masters degree in English Literature from the University of Delhi.
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    Updated: 22 Mar 2020, 05:58 PM IST
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