One of India’s leading integrated logistics, services and transportation group is playing a key role in keeping goods moving within the country, as well as gateway ports and services operational, in line with government guidance.
Dhruv Kotak, Managing Director, JM Baxi, says, “When COVID-19 hit India, our initial response was to safeguard our employees by following the guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the authorities in states we operate in. We took a wide range of measures, for example providing hand sanitisers, fumigating office spaces, maintaining social distancing between staff members and having operators at ports wearing suitable protective equipment. All our port staff, from senior management to operations teams, relocated into accommodation within the ports, so that they could keep working without risking spreading the virus outside.”
He continues, “We benefited from taking early action. Three weeks or so before lockdown we could see the COVID situation gathering pace, so we were working on our business continuity plans in early March. That gave us a good head start.”
Alongside these measures, JM Baxi worked with local state authorities, and internally, to establish a clear set of rules and guidance. He reflects, “This was not a simple matter given the size and complexity of India and the number of different regional structures we operate within. It required a big logistical effort to keep ports operating through the crisis, and we had to overcome a lot of challenges along the way. But the rules and policies we put in place have now been adopted by others and we are often the first point of contact for those looking for help and advice.”
He cites the example of a consignment of rice bound for Abu Dhabi which was stuck post-lockdown inland India. Kotak says, “The authorities in Abu Dhabi contacted us about the problem and we were able to intervene so that within 48 hours the containers of rice were moving again on their way to the UAE.”
JM Baxi has the responsibility of moving food grains and other essential goods within India by road, an essential task. Kotak says, “One of the challenges we have faced is a shortage of drivers, many of whom have relocated to their home towns and villages during lockdown. We have been working with other operators to pool resources to ensure we have enough drivers to keep goods moving with the equipment we have available, and that has proved highly successful.”
Alongside its ships agency, ports and terminals and logistics businesses, JM Baxi has a division focused on maritime technology. Kotak says, “This has been one of our big success stories. Social distancing is here to stay and so traditional document exchange methods are no longer viable. We have been working for a while on electronic bill of lading and other digital systems which will be much needed now. The crisis presents a great opportunity to go completely digital and we will be working closely with the authorities to make that happen.”
What lessons has Kotak learned from Covid-19 experiences so far? “One is the value of going back to basics,” he says. “Rather than focus on your latest investments and initiatives, you learn the importance of being hands on operationally, focusing on the labour force for example, which is vital to keeping supply chains going. Also most importantly, perhaps, I have learned the value of engagement with key partners, and integrating operations, to strengthen resilience in supply chains. That is something we must keep doing during the recovery phase as well.”