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Ecommerce Cos, Food Delivery Startups Seek Leeway In New Lockdown Rules In Maharashtra

Ecommerce Cos, Food Delivery Startups Seek Leeway In New Lockdown Rules In Maharashtra

The new rules mandates delivery and supply chain staff of ecommerce companies to either be vaccinated or carry a negative Covid test report beginning April 10

The total number of delivery agents across all ecommerce companies within the state is estimated to be in the lakhs

Nearly 90% of the frontline retail workforce is under 45 years, which makes their vaccination under the central government guidelines impossible

Update: Zomato and Swiggy won’t be taking orders after 8 pm in Maharashtra following the state government’s announcement.

Ecommerce companies, food delivery startups, and hyperlocal services companies are once again back at discussions with state governments with new rules to curb the surge in Covid-19 cases. A group of these companies is reportedly expected to approach the Maharashtra government to make a joint representation seeking an extension of the deadline for vaccination or Covid tests of their delivery partners, which has been mandated by the state. 

According to the Break The Chain order released this week by the Maharashtra government, beginning April 10, delivery and supply chain staff of ecommerce companies must either be vaccinated or carry a negative RT-PCR test report which will remain valid for 15 days. Further, the vaccination requirement must pass the scrutiny of the rules set by the central government, and as such, no one under the age of 45 can be vaccinated. 

As per the current rules, a penalty for non-compliance for food delivery companies will attract a fine of INR 10K on the establishment and INR 1,000 on the delivery agent. Their business licences may be withdrawn for repeat offences. 

The new rules present a logistical challenge for ecommerce and foodtech companies as the number of delivery agents and partners is likely to be in lakhs in Maharashtra alone. Presently, the central government guidelines only permit people older than 45 to get vaccinated, and a shortage of covid kits provides a big hindrance to routine testing. The companies are expected to request the home ministry and the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) to either extend the timeline for vaccination of partners or do away with the rule altogether.

Meanwhile, several restaurant and hospitality associations are also seeking relaxations in the curfew timing for food delivery and revocation of the mandatory testing rule for frontline delivery workers, according to a member of the National Restaurant Association of India.

“Trade bodies will see how the testing goes and then make some recommendations on behalf of ecommerce firms. We are not sure if the state government has the necessary infrastructure to carry out large-scale testing in such a short period,” a source told Livemint

Meanwhile, Amazon said that it was studying the latest guidelines while Snapdeal said that it did not expect any disruption in the state as it uses multiple logistics providers. 

Food Delivery Companies Face Shortage Of Partners

New guidelines also limit the working hours of restaurants which is likely to impact food delivery companies. Swiggy and Zomato are claimed to have a combined workforce of around 55,000 delivery agents in the state, according to the report. Both have said that they will be covering the cost of vaccination and RT-PCR test for their delivery staff, as per recent statements.

By Monday evening, however, both were reported to be facing a shortage of delivery staff as they stayed away due to uncertainty over the new rules. 

On Tuesday, both the food delivery apps sent out notifications to users, asking them to place their orders before 8 pm following the state government’s announcement of a stricter lockdown.

“These new guidelines, which prohibit dining completely and allow deliveries only till 8:00 pm, are meaningless and unsustainable. It is like an excruciating and painfully slow death for an erstwhile vibrant industry” said Anurag Katriar, president of the National Restaurant Association of India

Update Note | April, 6 2021, 3:10 pm

The article has been updated to reflect the changes in Zomato and Swiggy delivery services for Mumbai