Customers bewildered after police stop online stores from making deliveriesKathmandu CDO says shops are open in the morning, delivery services could be allowed after health protocols are in place.
Anil Panta was hoping that the groceries he had ordered from an online store on Monday would arrive by Friday as he watched his supply of rice, lentils and oil getting smaller and smaller.
If they are not delivered to his home, he has no idea how he is going to bring them as motorcycles are not allowed to operate.
Customers like Panta are bewildered after the police ordered online stores to stop making deliveries, saying that they were violating lockdown restrictions.
“I ordered Rs7,000 worth of daily essentials from Thulo.com, and I paid for them online,” he said. The 35-year-old resident of Dhobi Khola, Chabahil recently lost his job in an automobile company. “I do not have enough cash, and it will take time to get a refund. I do not know how I am going to get groceries now,” he said.
Senior Superintendent of Police Shyam Gyawali of the Metropolitan Police Office, Kathmandu said that the e-commerce entrepreneurs and delivery personnel that the police had detained on Thursday were released on the condition they would stop making deliveries.
The District Administration Office shut down hotels and restaurants from Wednesday. It said essential businesses like pharmacies and drinking water would be allowed to operate.
Shops selling milk and dairy products, fruits and vegetables and meat products will be allowed to open till 9:15 am. Gyawali said that online stores could also deliver essential goods till that time.
“Since there is no mechanism to implement health protocol among the home delivery people we have not allowed them to function. It possesses a serious threat to people as thousands of these people reach different houses in the city," said Janak Raj Dahal, chief district officer of Kathmandu.
The District Administration Office had previously permitted online sellers to operate delivery services from August 20 after restriction orders went into effect from midnight of August 19.
Consumer rights activists said that banning the delivery of essential goods amid a pandemic was deplorable. "This is the result of lack of coordination between government authorities. This type of action by the police administration could create a terrible situation," said Prem Lal Maharjan, president of the National Consumer Forum.
"Officials of the three District Administrative Offices in the Kathmandu Valley have said that they will not stop transportation of essential goods. It is the weakness of the government to take action against those that have been making home deliveries in the middle of a pandemic,” he told the Post.
But the government has safety as its biggest concern.
"These services would only be necessary if the prohibition order were to go for a long time but essential services could open every morning” Dahal told the Post. “"The Commerce Department said that they can be allowed strictly following health protocols but the Health Ministry called for a complete halt.”
E-commerce entrepreneurs bear losses running into thousands of rupees when perishable goods are not being delivered on time and they have to cancel the order and refund the money.
Surakchya Adhikari, co-founder and chief operating officer at Thulo.com, suffered a loss of Rs80,000 because fruits and vegetables could not be delivered on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
“With the restriction order, the number of orders and volume has increased in recent days. Considering the restriction period, a single customer was placing orders for grocery items and vegetables and fruits worth more than Rs10,000-15,000,” she told the Post.
E-retailers are of the view that rather taking decisions haphazardly without any discussion with stakeholders, it would be a relief if the government provided them time so that they do not have to bear losses.
“It is impacting us psychologically. We have payments to make to our staff who are working during these hard times, and we have office rent, payments to our suppliers and other operational charges. Every day we have to wake up with uncertainty and fear what will happen,” Adhikari said.
Anil; Basnet of Metrotarkari added that the government should have notified us earlier instead of holding the delivery staff on the road and picking up entrepreneurs from their working place as this does not deliver a good message in society, and entrepreneurs will feel that they have attempted to commit a crime.
“The home delivery service might never be a government priority as it is more focused on creating crowds at grocery stores in the morning rather than safely delivering essentials at home,” he added.
E-commerce is being prioritised by many countries at the time of the pandemic and funding them, but the government here is discouraging, said e-retailers.
“It seems like our current government does not have any vision at all. There is extreme mismanagement and lack of coordination between government entities,” said Kavi Raj Joshi, founder and managing director of Next Venture Corp.
If someone has made a mistake or gone against the rules, the government should have warned them once, not detained them, he said.
It will make entrepreneurs feel they have done a crime by providing service to the nation in this situation, he added. “How can we imagine foreign entities coming to Nepal and invest?” he said. This will leave a negative impact on upcoming entrepreneurs, Joshi added.
“Other nations are setting up innovation funds at the time of the pandemic, they are asking for business models from us to fight Covid-19, funding is being made for e-commerce and logistics by the government so that crowds can be lessened,” he said.
While Yuba Raj Khatiwada, spokesperson for the government, was saying that digital payment was picking up well in the country in the last four months, and announced that a new E-Commerce Act was being promulgated for e-commerce at a press briefing on Thursday, on the other side of town e-commerce entrepreneurs were being detained.
The government needs to clearly mention what is allowed and what is not in advance so that the entrepreneurs do not have any confusion, he said.
The pandemic has hit the nation for more than five months, but the government has not been able to come up with an operational strategy for e-commerce and address the problem for delivering essential goods.
Sagar Dev Bhatta, co-founder of Mero Kirana, said that a group of e-commerce entrepreneurs held a meeting with officials of the District Administration Office, Kathmandu on Friday and submitted a letter to allow e-retailers to deliver essential goods..
The government said that shops selling essential food items would be allowed to open till 9:15 am and closed our services. “We were gaining the trust of people, but this action has made us look bad for not delivering the goods,” he added.
"We could allow delivery services to operate only after a protocol is prepared and a mechanism is set up to monitor them," Dahal said. “But right now we don’t have one.”
That means people like Panta will have to go to a grocery store every day and that is risky too.
“Though I don’t feel like going to a grocery shop, I am planning to buy only a few kg of rice so that it will be easy to carry it home, and I will be making daily trips to the market to buy food,” said Panta.