The spectre of a steep rise in commodity prices loomed large in Kerala on the third of the COVID-19-related lockdown on Thursday.
Major importers of pulses, edible oil and food grain said they foresaw an imminent shortage of provisions as the lockdown had hit cargo movement severely.
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Pottuvelu Subramanian, head of one of the oldest trading houses in the State, said the deficiency of labour and lack of transport had hobbled efforts of wholesale merchants in Kerala to get supplies trucked in from other regions.
For instance, the supply of Orid dhall, considered a staple in the State and transported from Theni in Tamil Nadu, was hit due to shortage of workers to process and parcel it.
Truckers feared being detained at inter-state borders and said they would have to starve with no wayside eateries open.
The State customarily leaned heavily on green gram imports from Australia to make up for the dip in local production during summer. Several shipments of mung bean were held up in Thoothukudi port due to the lockdown.
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Traders said transporters would charge a hefty penalty as demurrage on importers for the delay in unloading the shipments. Naturally, traders would pass on the extra cost to consumers. A rise in the price of essential commodities appeared difficult to fend-off.
The lockdown has also hit the supply of edible oil, chiefly palmolien, imported from Malaysia as the shipments have been stuck in ports.
R.S. Manikantan, a wholesale onion and potato merchant, said the Tamil Nadu police had closed down markets and warehouses in Dindigul and Madurai. The remaining stocks were fast dwindling.
Provision stores found it difficult to operate with the police unwilling to issue passes to staff. Moreover, the police turned away buyers.
G. Sanal, general secretary, All India LPG Distributors Federation (Kerala Circle), said lack of delivery persons had hit cooking gas delivery in the State. The Federation has requested the government to issue protective gear and travel permits to gas agency staff.
The lockdown has drastically reduced the availability of fish and ushered in poverty along the coastline. Fish hawkers, once a ubiquitous sign of life in the State, are now few and far between.
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T. Peter, general secretary of the National Fish Workers Forum said fishers were unwilling to go to sea because the government had banned auctions.
Bakers have all but stopped functioning. There were fears that the lockdown could squeeze chicken, mutton, beef and egg supplies.
Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran told The Hindu that the government was on a war footing to prevent a shortage of supplies. The State was in touch with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to ensure unimpeded movement of freight lorries.