Low sales, police harassment: It’s truly a double whammy for food delivery boys

Online delivery of food items falls under 'essential service', but there have been reports from many parts of the country that the police is beating these delivery boys up. They are already dealing with low sales as people are not ordering

Shivani Gupta
| Updated: March 25th, 2020

“On Monday, when I was on my way to deliver a food parcel, I was stopped by the police. They threatened to fine me for stepping out during the lockdown. We barely earn Rs 50-100 a day. How can we pay a fine worth Rs 5,000, especially when the earning has declined due to the Coronavirus outbreak?” asked Ashish Awasthi, 38, who works as a food-delivery executive with an online food delivery platform in Uttar Pradesh’s Noida, where more than 2,000 challans were issued on March 23 for violation of the lockdown ordered to fight the spread of virus.

Food delivery executives in Pune, Maharashtra, also complained about the police’s ‘misbehaviour’. “People who were wearing the food delivery company’s uniform were beaten up by the police. This happened in front of my eyes. I returned without making the delivery,” said Khandu Rao, 35, who witnessed the incident while he was on his way to deliver food in Magarpatta in Pune.

“In the past few days, I was stopped by the police many times and warned not to be seen outside. I am not stepping out of my home now,” he said.

On March 22, in a tweet, Press Information Bureau, displayed the list of the districts across the country that were locked down. Noida and Pune were among those cities which were locked down by then.

Food delivery executives have been among those bearing most of the brunt of the strict enforcement of the lockdown ordered by the Centre — first of select districts and then in the entire country — in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Many fear that if the situation persists, they may lose their only source of income.

The police are said to be using force and imposing fines in many areas to restrain people from venturing out as the nation fights the outbreak that has affected over 649 people (until Thursday).

It is estimated that Swiggy, India’s largest food ordering and delivery platform with operations in 500 cities, has 2.1 lakh active delivery partners.

“The company has asked us to wear masks and go for deliveries. But, the police warn us to stay at home. When we informed the company about the police ill-treatment, we were told we could stay at home if we didn’t want to work,” said Krishna Chauhan, 30, who lives in Pune and works with an online food delivery platform for about two years.

Before the outbreak, Krishna used to earn Rs 700 to 800 daily by making at least 20 deliveries. But since the Coronavirus outbreak, most restaurants were shut and he was finding it difficult to earn even Rs 200 a day. Now, that is also likely to stop because of the seriousness with which the nationwide lockdown is being enforced.

“The company is not giving any attention to our safety from the police behaviour. If they want us to work, we should get some safety and the authorities must permit us to step out,” said Ashish.

Ankit Sharma who works with an online food delivery platform in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow, said he has received the message (on Monday) from the company telling him to not report for work till further notice considering the problems with the police

“Considering the threat from the police amid the lockdown, the company has asked us to stop reporting for work. But, if we stop, they will not give us money. And since there is no financial assistance from the company, what will we earn?” asked Ankit Sharma, 22, who works with an online food delivery platform in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. He informed us that he used to make about Rs 6,000 a week for about eight hours of work a day.

The food delivery executives want some form of financial assistance. Many are also worried because they have to take care of their families.

“I have to pay the EMI for my Scooty that I bought for this job,” said Krishna. “The earnings of the past 15 days will not be enough to cover the rent and expenses on groceries for the home,” he said. “I could have managed if I were a bachelor, but, now, I have a family to provide for,” said Krishna, who lives with his wife and a one-year-old daughter.

“Before Coronavirus, I used to get at least 20 to 25 orders on Sundays and I would earn Rs 1,000. But because of the ‘janata curfew’ last Sunday, I earned nothing,” he said. “Employees of private companies get to work from home. They will get paid, but what will we get?

Kanchan Chauhan, who works with an online food delivery platform in Pune in Maharashtra

“I have to borrow money to keep things going. All restaurants are shut. I don’t know how I am going to manage till the lockdown persists,” said Krishna.

An area manager of an online food delivery platform in Pune in Maharashtra, who did not wish to be named, said the company had the permission to run the services. But, given the way the police were treating the delivery executives, the company is being forced to cancel many orders. It may even consider suspending services, he said.

“We have advised our delivery boys to go home and have asked them to not log into their IDs,” he said.

On the demand of the executives for financial assistance, he said, “We have cleared all the wages of the boys as was due till last Sunday. But we cannot comment on any financial support considering the lockdown.”

“We have logged out of our IDs and are staying at home. We are poor. If we stay locked up in our homes, what will we earn, what will we eat?” asked Khandu Rao.