Digital freight forwarder Freightwalla, in association with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI), conducted their second online interactive session on Wednesday to discuss how businesses and logistics service providers can resume critical operations amidst partial relaxations by the government.
The interactive online session offered seminal value specially because of its esteemed guests that included keynote speaker N. Sivasailam, Special Secretary- Logistics, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, who addressed some significant concerns of importer, exporters, and logistics service providers. Panelists included key influencers and experts from a host of sectors including Anant Swarup (Joint Secretary, Commerce Ministry), R Radhakrishnan (Clearship), A.V. Vijaykumar (FFFAI), S. Padmanabhan (NACFS), Ajay Mittal (Arshiya Ltd), Sunil Arora (ACAAI), Juzar Mustan (FICCI Chair), Punit Java (CTO, Freightwalla) and Sanjay Bhatia (CEO, Freightwalla).
The webinar received an overwhelming response with over 300 participants from across the industry including importers, exporters, SME owners, transporters and other players from the logistics sector. It primarily brought out the fact that the COVID-19 situation has led the industry to mull over some much-needed changes in the way things have been done in the past, the most significant one being digitization and reduction in manual intervention as a definite way forward.
In his opening remarks, Shri Sivasailam exhorted logistics associations and organisations to form a common consolidated digital platform where multiple stakeholders can collaborate and benefit mutually. He said, “Freight forwarders and CHAs are a very essential part of the business and it is important that they remain strong for the chain to stay unaffected. Therefore, it is essential that institutions like FICCI and Freightwalla come forward and help in getting things that are right now on WhatsApp groups on to common platforms. All organisations can plug in to the platform and mutually benefit.” He mentioned that the government is also working on the proposal for a platform which will offer new and streamlined solutions for trade processes.
Another important change Sivasailam reiterated was the strong need for e-documentation. An e-Bill of Lading will be crucial to handle the current situation as well as those that arise in the future, if any. He added that the government is working on a proposal for e-documentation, but stakeholders need to be open to digitally transmitting original documents between parties.
In addition, Sivasailam asked organisations and companies to enforce a strong health system to ensure the safety of their employees. While the government will put out standard protocols, the onus was upon individual companies to consider and incorporate elements like social distancing, routine testing and staggered working as norms in their daily schedules for their employees
A key issue that was raised by panelists and participants was the matter of permissions that are currently required to move goods and cargo. Panelists pushed for a nodal agency that could eschew the efforts involved in acquiring permissions from different sources. Other important issues included concerns over the health of workers, insurance for them, movement of cargo stuck at CFSs, detention and demurrage charges, permissions for interstate transport, necessity to control logistics costs across land, air and sea etc.
Replying to the community’s concerns, Sivasailam urged service providers to maintain integrity while charging during these grim times. He added that in terms of detention or demurrage charges, the government will not be offering any blanket concession at CFSs and ports. He advised individual companies to work together with their freight forwarders to evacuate.
Speaking about the webinar, Sanjay Bhatia, Co-Founder and CEO, Freightwalla Inc said, “The risks associated with COVID-19 are definitely unusual and we are grateful to the Special Secretary for addressing our concerns today. However, at this point, it is important to not just wait for the government to take measures. The logistics fraternity also needs to come forward and take initiatives to make significant changes in their processes. These changes will not only be for this crisis situation, but will help us in optimizing processes in the long term as well. After all, surviving in a post lockdown world depends on our ability to foresee the challenges and be prepared for them.”