When Matunga resident Sumedha Rao went to the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) market in Navi Mumbai on Wednesday, she was “simply shocked”. Cauliflower was selling for as little as Rs5 a kilo! “I couldn’t believe my ears. Yesterday, I paid Rs30 per kg for cauliflowers at the Matunga market,” said Sumedha.
No fibbing. All vegetables at APMC market cost far less than they do in retail markets. Turiya (ridge gourd) is sold at APMC market for Rs18 per kg. In retail markets it costs Rs60 per kg. Onion is Rs9 a kilo at APMC, but is sold at Rs30 per kg at retail markets. Potato at Rs12 per kg in APMC, and Rs30 per kg at retail markets.
So who is laughing all the way to the bank? A syndicate of big-time traders with strong underworld support manipulates the prices at the expense of both farmers and consumers. Nobody in APMC wants to come on record, but off the record they do talk about the syndicate that runs the show at APMC. Incidentally, the syndicate is politically very well connected.
Sources in APMC told dna that while a farmer in Nashik is paid Rs2.50 per kg of cauliflower, the consumer in Mumbai is asked to cough up Rs30 a kg. Thus, both the farmer and the consumer lose big time thanks to this syndicate of traders that dominates APMC and major retail markets such as those in Matunga, Dadar, Byculla and Vile Parle.
The underworld has also been in this business for several years. For example, it is no secret that the Ashwin Naik gang lords over the Dadar market near Plaza cinema. Interestingly, the prices at government vegetable centres opened with NGO help in different parts of Mumbai too are different from those prevailing in the APMC market.
For instance, carrot at the APMC market is available for Rs8 per kg but is sold at Rs15 per kg at these centres.
Manisha Avdhoot, an office-bearer of one of the NGOs selling vegetables, said, “APMC officials decide the price at which we have to sell the vegetables. In fact, they have given us a chart in which we are to display the prices of the day for different vegetables. We have no choice in this regard.
“APMC can factor in the cost of transport but even then the rate at which we are compelled to sell is huge. We have protested against the mark-up in prices, but in vain.”
If middlemen are eliminated, then it will be a win-win situation for both farmers and consumers.
Minister for agriculture and marketing Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said the government “is trying its best to eliminate middlemen” but that it was not possible to dismantle the APMC mechanism “because there are certain legal hassles involved”.
“I am talking to all stakeholders and trying to work out a mechanism so that the role of middlemen can be done away with,” Patil said.
A market-watcher said: “The problem is that the powerful lobby of traders at APMC market enjoys tremendous political patronage. This lobby, which rakes in several hundred crores in profits annually, will do everything to sabotage a direct link between the farmer and consumer. There’s a lack of political will.
Government officials themselves are hand-in-glove with the syndicate. One government official gets Rs50,000 in daily commission.”