coronavirus: Covid-19: Retailers say staff manhandled by police amid lockdown

NEW DELHI/KOLKATA/MUMBAI: Retailers in many cities said on Wednesday that staff were stopped and manhandled by police, even as the central government reiterated that essential services should not face disruption from local authorities.

“On the ground, the interpretation and the reaction is very different from what the centre and the state governments have specified,” said Mohit Kampani, deputy managing director of More Retail, which operates supermarkets across India.

In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown, in the country’s biggest measure to fight the Covid-19 virus outbreak that has so far affected more than 300,000 people worldwide.

On Wednesday, retailers were busy video conferencing or meeting with police, municipal authorities in states and even calling on home ministry officials in New Delhi to find solutions to increasing incidents of alleged harassment, including forced closure of outlets and warehouses, and preventing retail staff from reaching stores.

“Many of our employees are unable to reach stores as authorities have restricted their travel despite authorisation letters. In fact, there are a few markets where local authorities have asked stores to shut shop,” said a Future Group spokesperson.

For example, the Big Bazaar hypermarket in Faridabad had to shut on Wednesday as police prevented staff from reaching the store.

“In some states like Uttar Pradesh even kirana stores were not allowed to open…. So did Punjab… which is very baffling,” said Arvind Mediratta, MD of Metro Cash and Carry India. About eight Metro wholesale stores out of the total 28 were shut in many states. “About 30% of our business comes from delivery especially to the kiranas but deliveries have been shut for the last two-three days because vehicles are either impounded or sent back by police,” said Mediratta who is also the head of FICCI’s retail and internal trade committee.

Food and grocery retail chain More said it was able to open 80% of its stores nationally on Wednesday. Stores in Punjab, however, were shut due to either difficulty in staff movement or because local authorities were not allowing to open outlets.

“The biggest issue is supply from our distribution centres to the store, with the trucks getting stopped by the police,” said Kampani.

More has stopped selling all non-food items and is currently focusing on 650 products for hypermarkets and 400 for supermarkets, which include packaged food, dairy, grocery, fruits and vegetables.

The Retailers Association of India said incidents of manhandling of store staff by police were reported from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Gujarat. RAI has requested chief ministers and DGPs of these states to intervene to make sure essential goods are accessible.

Meanwhile, officials in Noida conducted conference calls with retailers and representatives from e-commerce companies, while the Gurugram Police tweeted on Wednesday that its officers had been directed to allow representatives of various companies, including Zomato, Flipkart, Amazon, Big Bazaar, Swiggy, Grofers, BigBasket and Milkbasket to operate.

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