The battle of wits between farmers, traders and the Maharashtra government is a case study on the political challenge reformers face. The Devendra Fadnavis government recently decided to exclude fruits and vegetables from the list of farm items that have to be mandatorily sold through the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs). The cartels that control these APMCs have gone on strike. Food prices have climbed in cities such as Mumbai. Farmers have responded by bringing their produce in trucks to sell directly to consumers in some cities.
Any reform involves unsettling rent-seeking groups, often backed by political interests, that benefit from the existing system. Reform beneficiaries are often not as well-organized. But this is a battle worth fighting. Free markets should benefit both farmers and urban consumers, as the late farmers’ leader Sharad Joshi argued. Let us hope Fadnavis does not blink.