Retail merchants running low on stocks as lockdown gets tighterThe government's ever changing policy has made it difficult to maintain smooth supply of goods, say traders.
The government responded to a rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths by tightening the lockdown, preventing retailers and e-retailers from getting access to essential supplies.
All vehicle passes have been cancelled, and traders have been trying to get new permits from the Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection Management so that they can replenish their stocks.
The privilege passes which were issued at the start of the lockdown on March 24 were revoked on May 14, following concern at the large number of automobiles on the roads of Kathmandu and other cities.
The government started issuing new passes on May 17. Applicants have to submit paperwork like a tax clearance document and recommendation letter from business associations like the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry or the Confederation of Nepalese Industries.
The department is issuing passes on a priority basis for the transportation of essential supplies only. Vehicles carrying industrial raw materials, readymade goods, petroleum products, animal feed and livestock, fruits and vegetables are exempt from permit.
Ambulances, mortuary vans and vehicles transporting medicines and medical equipment are also excused.
Netra Prasad Subedi, director general of the Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection Management, said they had become stricter in providing passes due to the huge number of applicants.
“We have formed strict provisions to obtain passes considering the current situation,” said Subedi.
The government's ever changing policy has made it difficult to maintain smooth supply of essential goods, said food and vegetable traders and e-retailers.
The lockdown has lasted two months, and the government should have made better arrangements for the supply sector and the people involved in it, said entrepreneurs.
Rajkumar Shrestha, president of the Nepal Retailers Association, said they had been trying unsuccessfully to get a pass from the department for the last three days.
“Retail stores operating on a small or medium scale might not have tax clearance documents on hand. And since they are registered with the local level government, they are not members of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry or the Confederation of Nepalese Industries,” he said.
The requirements laid down by the government to obtain a pass are impractical for retail businesses. When Shrestha contacted officials from the federation and confederation, they said they could not issue recommendation letters to non-members.
If retailers don't have adequate stocks, obviously they cannot keep their shops open daily, he said. Many retailers need to commute some distance to their grocery stores, and they are prevented from doing so without a vehicle pass.
"Prices could go up as a result of stores remaining shuttered. And consumers suffer when they cannot buy the things they need," Shrestha said.
Sagar Dev Bhatta, co-founder of online grocery store Mero Kirana, said he managed to get a recommendation letter from the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry as he was a member of a business association.
Bhatta said his business swelled by 200 percent during the lockdown with people preferring to buy essential goods online. But frequent changes in the pass system has created difficulties in this time of crisis, he said.
“They should allow applications for passes to be made on the internet as it is risky with so many people crowding the department to get them,” he said.
Shrestha said, "It is good that the government is concerned about public health and is working for the welfare of the community, but introducing provisions with difficult terms and conditions hits both entrepreneurs and consumers."
Grocery stores which were staying open in the mornings and evenings have been operating for a few hours in the morning since Friday, he said. Some merchants have not been able to open at all, he said. "This will make life hard for people who buy groceries in small quantities on a daily basis."
Siddhartha Thapa, a grocery shop owner in Kirtipur, said he was running low on food items. He had been able to keep his shop open in the evenings too during the early days of the lockdown, but now he is worried about getting fresh stocks due to the strict new movement rules. He does not know how he is going to keep the shelves stocked.