In order to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19 in India, the government has extended the nationwide lockdown up to 3rd May 2020.
One of the biggest concerns in the country right now is the distribution of food supplies and essential commodities. In Indian cities, with large income inequalities, servicing these huge numbers equitably becomes a logistical impossibility. Last-mile door-to-door services have become essential systems to get supplies to every individual.
With commodities becoming scarce, people of privilege start to hoard, and consequently, prices rise. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy which affects the urban poor the most, many of whom work on a daily wage. This has resulted in a much-documented exodus of migrant workers from their workplace to their villages1. With inter-state movement seized, coupled with the lack of availability of labour — stocks of fresh food supplies are rapidly diminishing. Many local markets lie desolate — potential signs of an acute food shortage.
The lockdown has once again brought to the surface, the gross inequity in Indian cities. Millions of men, women and children are now dependent on the government or charitable trusts for every meal. Raghu Karnad writes in the New Yorker about how this time offers us an opportunity to rethink the way our cities work 2.
This re-imagination of Indian cities has been coming for a long time and has to be addressed on several verticals. One avenue which can be explored is the way the lockdown has prompted ( at least for the upper and middle class in Indian metro cities) the opportunity of new supply chains. The supply of produce that was previously zoned, distributed and procured at the end by consumers is now available every alternate day at one’s doorstep.
SUPPLY CHAINS IN TIMES OF CORONAVIRUS
A temporary market observing social distancing rules at Vasant Oscar, Mulund, Mumbai and pre-packaged vegetable orders (₹700) delivered together at Runwal Greens, Mulund, Mumbai.
Our tryst with COVID-19 has promoted previously unprecedented networks of independent, un-aided, customised supply chains that bind several small scale, last-mile service operations with the large-scale cross border movement of essential commodities.
Last-mile delivery of supplies is not new to our cities. India has had a long-standing system of daily fresh milk delivery. Families have independent relationships with local dairies — milk is delivered as per their required quantity, schedules and choice. In Goa, we have the “poder”, a bread delivery man who goes door to door twice a day delivering fresh bread to every household.
The current lock-down situation has coerced daily commodities like bread, eggs, fruits, vegetables and oil to be delivered in a similar fashion. The mercurial rise of e-commerce and delivery apps like Swiggy and Zomato has now set up systems of local delivery boys, App-based ordering and WhatsApp savvy hawkers. Some enterprising businesses have created supply chains based on orders, locations and timetables, creating a direct link with the customer. The increased logistical demand for this system has given impetus on communities scheduling and acquiring essentials together. , reducing the need to move around within the city.
SUPPLY CHAINS IN SUBURBAN MUMBAI
In this context, let’s discuss the case of Mulund (West) a suburb of Mumbai. Mulund is primarily a residential suburb, on the foothills of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, it is dominated by large housing complexes that house the middle class, shopping complexes, fast food chains and recreational activities. A gridiron plan was designed by architects Crown & Carter in 1922, which extends from present-day Mulund railway station to Paanch Rasta road Junction in Mulund (West), housing the Mulund Market, the suburb is serviced by the Eastern Express Highway.
Due to the lockdown, the suburb has been cut-off from the highway — the supply chain which was previously centralized at the Mulund market has now been decentralised due to the collective efforts of the municipality, local police, retailers, vendors, society secretaries and residents. Internal circulation routes for supply trucks have been set, where every alternate day, residents receive essential supplies at a fixed time right outside their societies. The Mulund market has been declared a pedestrian zone, this decongests the route during essential supply hours. Local hawkers and temporary delivery services from pharmacies, supermarkets and grocery stores enable greater penetration of the supply chain. Moreover, these services enable the restriction of procurement-based mobility with great ease whilst maintaining social distancing. The police barricading combined with the efficiency of supply completely quarantined all mobility within smaller zones, and, till now, has succeeded in restricting the spread of the pandemic whilst producing avant-garde supply chains.
The following illustrations present new emerging delivery networks in Mulund, Mumbai. The red line illustrates the traditional method of procurement, propagating individual mobility, whereas the green line denotes the services that now coordinate the supply of essentials, focusing on groups of people based on their location.
Not so long ago, the world was looking into the possibility of drone deliveries, these systems require greater expenditure in the form of capital than of labour. The ease of access and fast, high precision delivery service shall definitely create an entirely new ethos of supply chains for essential products, health care emergencies, war-zones and remote locations.
Holistically speaking, when it comes to the contextual cases of third world metropolises like Mumbai, we can learn a lot from these avant-garde adaptations our supply chains have made. The patterns observed under the current COVID-19 lockdown suggest that zonal iterations to our current supply chains with local integration of distribution shall serve to present a great model even post the pandemic has eclipsed.
The avant-garde supply chains produced as a byproduct of COVID-19 illustrate the evolution of supply chains as a naturally decentralised model within the developing world.
THE CCF CHALLENGE:
We want to understand the supply chain in your neighbourhood. We challenge individuals to map:
- ‘New’ Supply chains that have emerged in their immediate surroundings.
- Your vision of the ‘Future Normal’ in commodity supply.
You can use any medium to represent — write, photograph, sketch, video, render or simply doodle! It would be great if you could accompany the mapping project with a brief write up that explains the context, your observations and predictions explaining the emergence of these avant-garde supply chains.
Use the hashtag #CCFSupplyChallenge and tag us @charlescorreafoundation on Instagram. We shall feature and discuss unique observations on our social media pages and website.
1. Article on the problems faced by migrant labourers by Sahil Joshi for India Today: