On Thursday, September 3, the food delivery boys were getting ready for a busy day ahead after a week under strict lockdown. Then they got the dreaded message. Unlike what was being reported, they wouldn’t, after all, be able to make deliveries. To be able to do, they now learned, they had to get the PCR test done, which comes Rs 4,400 a pop. And even if they got the test done, it would be at least three days before they got the report.
The government has offered next to no support for the restaurants and food delivery services. Instead, the police constantly harass them. On Aug 27, over 90 food delivery service owners and employees were arrested from various places in Kathmandu. This has discouraged established companies, but also put a big dent in the confidence of those starting out in the business.
Anita Timsina, founder of Fooddole, a Kathmandu-based food delivery service started a year ago, shares the bitter experience of her team-members being apprehended. “The way we were picked up without a warrant, it no longer felt like we were living in a democratic country,” she reminisces. Police arrested both office and field staff at Fooddole. Timsina says the police behaved with her staff as if they were criminals. She now wonders if delivering food really is a crime in Nepal.
Komal Niraula, co-founder at One-Eleven, another Kathmandu-based food delivery service started a year ago, speaks of how his startup has already had to shift to a cheaper office. They have also cut production and cut down on deliveries in light of reduced income.
When he heard about the arrests, Niraula says he felt thoroughly discouraged as a professional. “I am particularly dissatisfied with the prohibition on the delivery of groceries. Moreover, it is not clear who is allowed to do business and who is not,” he adds.
Sujan Rai, co-founder at Sanohaat, a food delivery service that opened up in June in Jhapa district of Eastern Nepal, says food delivery services are facing an existential crisis. “Forget rewarding us for making people’s lives easier by delivering food, grocery, and other essential stuff to their doorsteps; the government is instead arresting us,” he sighs. Nonetheless, he agrees that it is up to business-owners to ensure their services fully comply with safety measures.
Likewise, Nabin Raj Acharya, Managing Director at Mazzako Food, a Pokhara-based food and local grocery delivery service, feels highly insecure these days.
Mazzako Food had only started its services a month ago after being closed for almost three years. He says online delivery of food items with safety measures and regular monitoring is more secure than people visiting stores individually.
“By the looks of things, the food delivery business is on the verge of collapse considering how much we have invested in it, often by taking out huge loans. And the government, instead of helping us, seems intent on making our lives harder,” he says.
All food delivery personnel APEX talked to claimed they were following all necessary health protocols and safety measures. They are regularly taking the body temperature of staffs, making them use masks and hand sanitizers, and taking every precaution to minimize chances of infection.
So what was the reason behind the recent police action in Kathmandu? Spokesperson of the Metropolitan Police Office, SSP Sushil Kumar Yadav, says the police only acted on the administration’s directive. “Moreover, food delivery is not among essential services,” he adds.