Centre to launch supply helpline amid worries during key farm season
The Centre is set to launch a 24x7 countrywide call centre on Wednesday to manage intersectoral movement of goods, from farming and agro-processing products to household necessities, to remove supply bottlenecks during the extended coronavirus lockdown, by far a key challenge, an agriculture ministry official said.
Restoring supply chains emanating from the agriculture sector is urgent as farmers are poised to wind up winter harvests during April-May and prepare for summer sowing.
The government has also activated 20 region-wise call centres for the organised sector and informal sector workers requiring help with permits, accessible through phone numbers, WhatsApp and emails, the official named above said, requesting anonymity. These control rooms are being managed by labour enforcement officers and assistant labour commissioners,.
The farm sector isn’t just a supplier of food, it serves as a provider of primary and intermediate raw materials for a wide range of industrial goods, from textiles to pharmaceuticals.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced that the current lockdown will be extended until May 3.
Movement of primary articles, such as foodgrains and vegetables, as well as other essential goods have continued to stumble. The Union government is still grappling with lack of compliance with its advisories in a country where ground-level decisions are taken by local administrators.
In a letter to all states, Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla on April 12 reiterated federal guidelines on freeing restrictions in the agriculture and transport sectors, which are not being implemented in “letter and spirit.”
Trucks carrying essential and non-essential goods “are being detained”, workers are “not getting authorizations” and operations of “cold storages and warehouses are not being allowed”, Bhalla’s letter stated.
“The home ministry’s orders have not percolated to the ground level even though operators want their vehicles to move. Trucks are still being stopped at various state borders,” Kultaran Singh Atwal, president of the lobby group All-India Motor Transport Congress said.
And without access to warehouses and cold chains, farm goods can rot. Farmers are already dumping produce for want of buyers. “The lockdown and limited movement of goods because of absence of labour, trucks and activity in wholesale markets have led to a sharp decline in supplies of commodities such as foodgrains, horticulture and sugar,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at CARE Ratings.
The Centre hopes to smoothen bottlenecks through realtime updates in its call centre, an official said, requesting anonymity. Truck drivers, traders, retailers, transporters or any other stakeholders who are facing problems in inter-state movement of essential commodities can seek help by calling at the call centre and executives will forward the vehicle ,consignment and help-needed details to state officials for resolution, the official said.
The troubleshooting hub, to be anchored in the farm ministry, will be called the all-India agri-transport call centre. It will help to coordinate supplies between states for inter-state movement of perishables, inputs like seeds, pesticides and fertilizer. The call centre number, 18001804200 and 14488 (not yet functional), can be accessed from any mobile or landline.
As the country heads into the summer-sown kharif farm season, the Centre will provide subsidized seeds to states under the National Food Security Mission, the official said. The subsidy under the scheme shall be for varieties less than 10 years, which means farmers can access higher-yielding varieties cheaply.
Retail inflation eased to a four-month low of 5.91% in March, according to official data released on Monday. However, food prices have gone up sharply in April, Sabnavis said.
There appear to be three main supply-side constraints that have driven up food prices not yet captured officially. One, arrivals (of farm commodities) in agricultural markets have plunged sharply. Two, land transportation costs have risen sharply and, three, restrictions and quarantine measures have resulted in crippling labour shortages.