New rules from the governments of Maharashtra and Assam have created additional hurdles for e-commerce and transport operators, including those delivering food, groceries and other essential supplies.
The Maharashtra government, in a notification on Wednesday, said drivers and helpers of all goods carriers entering the state must carry a negative RT-PCR certificate that is less than 48 hours old, and that it will be valid for only seven days. The new rules also say that a cargo carrier cannot have more than two people.
Meanwhile in Assam, though the government has allowed the delivery of essential goods through e-commerce, it has introduced an odd-even formula for private vehicles. Those with even registration numbers can travel on even dates and odd numbers on odd dates, from 5 am to 2 pm.
‘As good as banning us from entering’
Maharashtra’s regulations will come into effect on May 15. E-commerce firms and transport operators are up in arms as they feel the new rules are as good as banning them from entering the state. Vehicles that have already left from southern states cannot enter Maharashtra as their occupants aren’t carrying Covid-19 negative certificates, they pointed out.
Besides, they said, it still takes days to get RT-PCR (swab) test results. “It takes between 48 hours and 72 hours to get a certificate in many states because of the rising number of cases and limited number of labs. So most trucks will not be able to enter Maharashtra,” said a senior executive at an e-commerce firm.
“This order is going to choke the entire supply chain, and goes against the guidelines of the home ministry to facilitate free movement of goods carriers. There is no exemption even for trucks carrying oxygen concentrators or medical equipment,” he added.
Operations at Bhiwandi in Maharashtra, a major e-commerce hub through which hundreds of trucks pass every day, could be disrupted by new rules. The hub doesn’t just service deliveries in Maharashtra but all of Western India.
Until now, while several states had banned e-commerce companies from delivering “non-essential” items, the movement of goods had not been restricted, in line with the central government’s guidelines.
The requirement of a Covid-negative that is valid only for seven days will complicate matters. It is difficult to imagine how the workers would get themselves tested every week. And the two-person limit per vehicle will add another hurdle for truck operators, as vehicles on longer routes typically have more than one driver.
E-commerce firms petition govts
E-commerce and goods transporters have now approached the Maharashtra administration, seeking changes to the notification. The state also receives and transports several raw materials for manufacturing industries and is home to major ports.
An executive cited above said the movement of goods should not be restricted as trucks often carry a mix of essential and non-essential goods.
E-commerce firms are also petitioning the Tamil Nadu government to relax its rules. The state allows them to deliver only food, provisions, vegetables, meat and fish between 6 am and noon. They have urged the state to broaden the range of goods they can deliver.
And in Karnataka, some offline traders have asked the government to extend the morning work hours to noon as their business begins only at 8 am. A two-hour shopping window is causing crowing at shops, they said.
The Maharashtra government, in a notification on Wednesday, said drivers and helpers of all goods carriers entering the state must carry a negative RT-PCR certificate that is less than 48 hours old