The Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra is likely to strike another blow at the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress-controlled Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMC).
Buoyed by its performance in the recent municipal corporation and zila parishad elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government plans to carry out key electoral reforms that could fundamentally change the political profile of the 300-plus APMCs across the state.
The government may introduce a bill during the budget session of the state legislature beginning 6 March to give voting rights to farmers to choose members and chairmen of the APMCs in their jurisdiction, said Maharashtra’s co-operation and marketing minister Subhash Deshmukh.
Mint has reported extensively on the Fadnavis government’s methodical demolition of the NCP’s dominance over the state’s lucrative cooperative sector in the last two years.
“The government has appointed a committee to study if farmers need to be given the voting right to change the profile of APMCs and make them farmer-oriented. If the committee recommends this amendment to the APMC Act, we will bring in an amendment bill during the budget session itself,” Deshmukh said.
Another senior BJP minister, who did not wish to be named, said the government would take the ordinance route to push through the reform.
“The Congress and NCP would stall this bill in the legislature. Like with the previous reforms in the APMC and co-operative sectors, we will take the ordinance route to first carry out the reform and then ensure its legislative legitimacy,” the minister said.
Sunil Pawar, Maharashtra’s director of agriculture marketing, who heads the committee, said it would submit its report within the next eight days. “We will submit the report during the budget session and it will be up to the government to accept or reject it or act on it further,” Pawar said. Apart from the serving as well as retired government officials, the committee also has a few legislators who have long represented farmers.
Currently, the Maharashtra APMC (Development and Regulation) Act of 1963 allows only the members of gram panchayats, agriculture credit societies, and multi-purpose cooperative societies, to elect the members of APMC and various market panels that function under the APMC.
“This has led to traders and local politicians capturing the entire APMC structure and working it to their advantage,” said a retired government official who is a member of the committee on proposed APMC reforms and who did not wish to be named.
The committee is likely to recommend that farmers residing in the jurisdiction of their APMC market be given the right to vote directly in the election of market committee members. “This would make the election process wider, open, transparent, and representative. The current system is too open to manipulation, political rigging, and opaque,” said the member.
Due to the current system of APMC elections, political parties which control zila parishads and panchayat samitis effectively control the APMCs by getting their representatives elected to the committees.
In Maharashtra, which has 305 APMC markets spread over eight divisions, most APMCs are under the control of the NCP.
“Most of these APMCs are in districts and regions where first the Congress and later NCP has been the dominant player in zila parishad and panchayat samiti elections so far. So their dominance extends to APMCs..,” said a cooperative sector expert who did not wish to be named. He said the BJP government’s primary objective in giving farmers the voting rights was “undercutting the NCP”.