The reason? A large number of the migrant delivery workforce is afraid of venturing out or has fled to their hometowns fearing police action, besides the spread of the coronavirus and lack of income. And the skeletal workforce still present in the cities has faced hostile policemen in the last two days. Delivery executives especially have been beaten up, which has discouraged them from starting their two-wheelers for new assignments.
Prashant Devkar, 26, an executive for online food delivery platform Zomato in Mumbai, said he was stopped by the police in the city a few days ago. But he was lucky to escape without any injuries while on his way to deliver food. “I came to Sangli (his homtown in Maharashtra) a couple of days ago as I wasn’t sure of my income and food arrangement. On my way to the village, I was stopped thrice by the police. Even If I want to go back, I can’t right now,” said Devkar, who has been delivering food in Mumbai for three years.
At least two of his colleagues have also returned to their village. Most of the co-workers are gone and are largely out-of-touch due to the national lockdown. The effect is visible across online platforms even when orders are reaching a new high.
“We have launched a big exercise to get our people back. They all left for their hometowns when we had to shut. And they are still a bit scared after seeing what the cops did to their colleagues. We are even talking to their parents. They are slowly coming back,” said Bigbasket CEO Hari Menon. Bigbasket has a fleet of about 25,000 personnel.
“It’s fear on the ground of both police-beating and the virus. They still don’t have full confidence to venture out. And newspapers aren’t reaching them. So some confidence-building stuff is needed on the ground to bring them back,” said a senior e-commerce industry executive, who did not wish to be quoted, adding that serious public messaging by the government authorities can solve the issue.
Some of the platforms, like meat-delivery company Licious, have reached out to blue-collar staffing firm TeamLease to on-board new delivery executives, a person aware of the matter said. On Thursday, for example, only 30% of the delivery staff was active for medicine delivery platform Medlife. The company’s delivery capabilities were down by 60% in the last two days and it might take another few days to clear the backlog.
More than personal safety, it’s the police action that has caused delivery personnel to stay away from fulfilling new orders, said Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and EVP of TeamLease, one of the largest companies providing blue-collar staffing in the country. “In Bengaluru, till the day before, there were no major disruptions. The coronavirus-led restrictions have been there for some time now, but largely the harassment has caused this. Employers are also asking why take the risk: What if something happens to the person delivering?” she said.
According to her, fulfilling the rising demand for delivery personnel from online platforms currently would be a challenge as many of them can’t easily return to the large cities. “They are quite shocked, and many are shying away from going out, fearing further backlash from the police because this issue was escalated on social media,” an executive of a medicine-delivery platform said.
Mohammed Shaukat Ali, 43, who runs a medicine shop in Hyderabad, said three out of his four delivery staff had gone back to their villages. “I have to do the deliveries now along with the other person who has stuck around. We have seen issues happening in other cities, but it’s relatively better here, so far. The bigger problem is — some of the larger outlets are shut or being told to shut, that will hit availability of medicines,” he added.