New Delhi, India, April 14, 2020 -- The Centre is set to launch a 24x7 countrywide call centre today to manage intersectoral movement of goods, from farming and agro-processing to household necessities in order to iron out supply hurdles during the coronavirus lockdown, by far a key challenge.
Restoring supply chains emanating from the agriculture sector is quite urgent as farmers are poised to wind up winter harvests during April-May and prepare for summer sowing.
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 till May 3.
Movement of primary articles, such as grains and vegetables, as well as other essential goods have continued to stumble. The Union government is still grappling with lack of compliance of 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", he said.
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.
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 and consignment details along with the help needed 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 summer-sown kharif farm season, the Centre will provide subsidized seeds to states under 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 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 appears to be three main supply-side constraints that have driven up food prices not yet captured officially. One, arrivals (of farm commodities) in APMC markets have plunged sharply. Two, land transportation costs have risen sharply and, three, restrictions and quarantine measures have resulted in crippling labour shortages.
Yet, higher prices at the retail end stand in sharp contrast to poor prices for farmers, said Vidhi Agarwal, an economist with commodities trading firm, Comtrade.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Wednesday, April 15, 2020
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