Consumer activists sceptical about promised home delivery serviceThe local administration has ordered grocery stores to close down as it extended the lockdown by another week.
State-run food trading companies will deliver groceries to people's homes after the government extended the lockdown and ordered all stores— except those selling vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy products and cooking gas—to close down.
Food Management and Trading Company and Salt Trading Corporation said they would supply essential goods by mobile van in Kathmandu Valley in coordination with the local government.
Mohan Prakash Chand, chief executive officer of Food Management and Trading Company, said four vans would provide home delivery service within the city and up to a distance of 2 km from the ring road.
“A customer needs to place a minimum order of Rs2,000 to get home delivery,” Chand told the Post. “There is no delivery charge. Buyers can go to the company’s website or call the company’s regional head to place their orders,” he said.
Consumer rights activists have complained that closing down grocery stores and implementing home delivery will make it difficult for residents who have to live from day to day.
Madhav Timalsina, president of the Consumer Rights Investigation Forum, said, "Ordinary consumers and daily wage earners do not have access to the internet, nor can they call the regional head when they need food. Moreover, we don't have a clue how the mobile van service is going to distribute food products."
Timilsina added, “This is just a charade as the promised delivery service will not provide relief to consumers impacted by the lockdown.”
Chand said that since most people had already stocked up on groceries, there wouldn't be a lot of demand.
Food Management and Trading Company had tied up with private online sellers Sastodeal.com and Mukundo.com, but as the government has completely banned home delivery by private firms, the state-owned company will make deliveries on its own, Chand said. The company has sufficient stocks of essential food items, he added.
Another state-owned company, Salt Trading, will deploy three mobile vans and make deliveries as per the orders received or make rounds, said Kumar Rajbhandari, deputy chief executive.
“The van will carry food items enough for 40-50 households,” Rajbhandari said.
Timilsina said that providing mobile van service in the valley is not possible as proved by the failure of Food Management and Trading Company and Salt Trading to provide delivery service during festivals.
“Outlying areas in the valley such as Dakshinkali, Danchi, Chaimale, Dharmasthali, Kabhresthali, Matatirtha and other places are never served. Life will be hard for people here as they cannot get delivery service and local grocery stores have been ordered to close down,” Timilsina told the Post.
Mobile vans of the two government companies will sell rice, lentils, edible oil, sugar, beaten rice, salt, spices, legumes and other daily essential food items in all wards.
On Tuesday, the local administration extended the prohibitory order by a week till June 3 besides tightening the lockdown restrictions.
Since April 29, groceries and department stores had been permitted to remain open till 10 am; but the latest directive said they would have to close down from Thursday. But shops selling vegetables, fruits, meat, milk and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) would be allowed to stay open till 9 am.
The announcement set off a run on stores as frantic residents jostled to stock up on food items, increasing the risk of spreading infections.
“The crowds at the groceries and department stores during the last two days have led to more infections,” Timilsina said.
As per the recent order, retail sales of vegetables and fruits at the wholesale market have been banned, and local transportation is allowed to operate till 9 am. Vegetables and fruits are not allowed to be sold through street vendors.
Farmers supplying vegetables and dairy products are facing losses as their products are not reaching market due to problems in shipment, consumer rights activists said. Such strict orders are expected to further impact farmers as well consumers who have to suffer price hikes on essential goods at the time of a pandemic.
"With retail stores remaining closed for a week, the whole supply system will be thrown into turmoil," Timilsina said. “Panic buying has almost emptied many grocery stores of lentils, rice, salt and sugar,” he said, adding that the latest prohibitory order would disrupt the regular process of restocking inventory.
“Once the supply chain gets disrupted, it will have a huge impact on supply management affecting retail price, quality and quantity of goods,” he said.
"This will lead to artificial price hikes in the market that is controlled by middlemen. Retailers have already raised the prices of goods following the government's decision to close down grocery stores, and the lockdown does not seem to be ending soon," Timilsina said.