Expect a drastic drop in fruit, veg prices
State govt finalises plan to delist them from APMC. This means farmers can sell directly to consumers, without the interfering wholesalers and middlemen
There is no state indulgence greater than the sops thrown before elections. Following Rahul Gandhi’s injunction, the party-led state government has decided to free the trade of vegetables and fruits from the clutches of the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMC), whose wholesalers are middlemen to sell farm produce. Gainers from the move: you the consumer, and farmers the producers. Together, the two groups form a much larger voter base than the parties that stand to lose from the bargain: APMC traders and Congress ally NCP.
A notification to delist groceries from the exclusive domain of APMCs has been approved by the state agriculture and marketing department, headed by Congress Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil. As a result, farmers will have the freedom to sell their produce to consumers instead of taking it to APMC wholesalers, who then sell it to retailers.
The minister’s nod comes in the face of stiff opposition from the NCP (see box). Minister Vikhe Patil said, “I have approved the notification to delist vegetables and fruits from the list of APMCs. We wanted to streamline the system of sale of vegetables and fruits. When we decided to do this earlier, traders from APMCs opposed it. Accordingly, a hearing has been given by the state director of marketing. If they still have grievances, we can organise a joint meeting of officers of the state cooperation and marketing department with the traders.”
Doubling the gain
After a recent meeting of Congress chief ministers and senior office-bearers of the party in New Delhi, Rahul Gandhi announced that party-ruled states should allow open sale and purchase of vegetables and fruits. Moving quickly, Minister Vikhe-Patil processed the notification and got it approved by the law and judiciary department on Tuesday. Members of APMCs from across the state were at Mantralaya on the day, trying to persuade the minister otherwise, but the die seems to have been cast. MiD DAY has learnt that issuing the notification is a mere technicality, and that it might be sent out to market committees any moment now.
“The decision will benefit consumers immensely,” said a senior government functionary. “Today, the state approved vegetable centres across Mumbai to sell vegetables 25 per cent cheaper than the market rate. It happened because the government allowed farmers to sell their produce directly to the centres. Similarly, after the government notification, the prices will come down by 50 per cent, as farmers will have the
freedom to sell straight to consumers, which will further curtail the existing prices.”
North Mumbai Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam said, “The decision to delink sale of vegetables and fruits is part of the national initiative on vegetables and fruits. The farm produce should be allowed to be sold directly to reduce their prices in the interest of consumers. The decision of a meeting chaired by AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi is to favour a direct sale of these commodities between farmers and the consumers. Nothing should come in the way to make vegetables and fruits cheaper.
Why NCP is feeling hurt
The NCP has grim reservations about the government’s decision. Party chief and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has asked the state to go slow on the issue, considering the problems APMCs might face in the near future. However, the problems are more NCP’s than the APMCs’. As per sources, most of the 300 APMCs across the state are under the Sharad Pawar-led party’s grip. The state’s decision will deliver a huge blow to the revenue raked in by the committees, as 35-40 per cent of their total turnover is from vegetables and fruits.
In case of Mumbai, the annual turnover of the APMC, which is located in Vashi and which controls five wholesale markets selling all types of produce, is Rs 10,000 crore. After the state’s decision, this APMC, which is also under NCP’s control, will lose at least Rs 3,500-4,000 crore worth of trade to the open market.
NCP MLA Dilip Mohite, who is president of the State Federation of APMCs, said that he was not invited for Tuesday’s meeting chaired by Minister Vikhe-Patil. “We are waiting for further instructions by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. The state notification can be challenged in the High Court, but we will decide the course of action only after instructions from Minister Pawar.”
By the book
Under section 62 of the Maharashtra Agricultural Produce Marketing (Development & Regulation) Act, 1963, the state government is empowered to issue a notification to remove certain commodities from the APMC’s list. Simply put, it means there is no need for the farmers to take de-listed farm produce to APMC for wholesale trade. They can sell it directly to end consumers.