Imagine getting fruits and vegetables like mangoes, oranges, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and leafy vegetables at lower rates in this era of inflation. This may turn into a reality with the state government due to exclude fruits, vegetables, condiments and processed items like pulses, dry fruits and edible oil from the ambit of the agricultural produce market committees (APMCs).
This will mean that farmers can sell to consumers directly, bypassing intermediaries, thus reducing rates, ensuring remunerative prices for farmers and lowering wastage in the distribution chain.
However, skeptics point to the sniping between the Congress and the NCP (which controls most of the significant 305 APMCs) as having the potential to delay these marketing reforms in an election year. Critics like traders say that while the state is seeking to bypass APMCs, no alternative distribution systems are available for agriculturists.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had asked Congress-ruled states to allow farmers to sell their produce to consumers bypassing APMCs to stem price rise. Despite the APMC act being amended in 2006 to allow direct and private marketing, contract farming, public private partnership (PPP) and single licence for the entire state, these reforms have been slow-starters.
State agriculture and marketing minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil told dna that they had finalised an order to delist around 43 commodities. He however added that it had been put on hold till a meeting was held with stakeholders like largely NCP-controlled mathadi (head load workers) unions and traders, who are objecting to the move. Another order to delist processed foods is expected with plans to cover other commodities soon.
“Inflation rises largely due to food prices. This will definitely help ensure that prices fall by around 20-25%,” said Vikhe, adding that small traders and institutions could purchase directly from farmers. The move will also reduce costs by doing away with charges levied by intermediaries.
Farmers claim traders’ rings and organised groups rig prices and levy charges. There is a minimum 30% difference between wholesale and retail prices.
“This will ensure an equal playing field for all,” Vikhe said, pointing to how farmers’ groups were banding together due to technology. This will boost direct purchase of agricultural commodities from farmers by consumers, wholesalers and processing industries.
NCP MLC and mathadi leader Narendra Patil said the plan would hurt interests of all stakeholders like consumers, farmers, traders and mathadis. “Farmers cannot offload produce on footpaths, they need proper markets,” he pointed out, adding that APMCs could recover money due to farmers from defaulting traders.
Patil admitted that despite the change in rules, there would be no curbs on farmers selling in APMCs. NCP leaders like Patil and minister Shashikant Shinde largely control mathadi unions in APMCs.
Mohan Gurnani of the Federation of Associations said this would replace the present hub and spoke system of APMCs with one where trucks could flock to Mumbai and congest it. He added that farmers had few options apart from APMCs to sell goods.
State officials said that while the APMCs’ monopoly over agriculture was being disbanded, farmers had no option when it came to selling their perishable goods.
Dr Giridhar Patil, a former associate of liberal farmer leader Sharad Joshi, who has now shifted to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), called the APMCs “the largest scam in India” but said the state government was likely to roll back the move as it feared offending powerful lobbies before the polls.
What all could cost lesser
Grapes, pomegranates, figs, melons, guavas, apples, peaches, pears, ginger, garlic, coriander, tomatoes, yam, chillies, jaggery, sugar, wheat flour, sugar, pulses.