Mumbai: Farmers in Maharashtra may soon be able to sell their produce to whoever they like, with the government set to remove restrictions that force them to sell only to wholesale traders.
The government is working on an ordinance to amend the Agriculture Produce Marketing (Regulation) Act, said an official from the state’s department of cooperation and marketing, who did not wish to be identified. The ordinance will later be introduced as a bill in the monsoon session of the state legislature in July. This will be the second phase of reforms in the agricultural product marketing sector, initiated in 2006.
The move, which will benefit lakhs of farmers, has run into opposition from traders’ unions at the dozens of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) markets, which have called for a strike on 8 June.
Currently, farmers in Maharashtra have to mandatorily sell their vegetables and fruits to traders licensed by the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC). The farm produce is then retailed by traders at designated APMC markets.
An amendment bill to allow direct retail sales has been on the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government’s legislative agenda for more than a year, but it has not been introduced in the state assembly. In January, the state decided to promulgate an ordinance but backtracked after the unions protested.
The APMC sector in Maharashtra has been traditionally dominated by politicians from the Nationalist Congress Party, which was part of the Congress-led coalition that ruled the state for 15 years until the BJP-Sena combine replaced it in 2014. The party is now in the opposition.
Efforts to contact Maharashtra’s minister for cooperation and marketing, Chandrakant Bacchu Patil, who is piloting the ordinance, did not bear results.
In 2006, Maharashtra initiated the first phase of reforms in the APMC markets by passing model legislation Maharashtra Agriculture Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) Act.
Milind Akre, managing director of Pune-based Maharashtra State Agriculture Marketing Board (MASMB), said that the act facilitated contract farming, private markets, e-trading, direct marketing licence and single state-wide licence.
“The model act covered a bulk of reforms in the sector. What is being done now is expansion of the area of operation of these reforms and denotification of additional commodities like vegetables and fruits,” Akre said.
The Union government has insisted on reforms in the various state-level APMC acts to establish direct markets between farmers and consumers, and help farmers negotiate the price of their produce. However, traders affiliated to the APMC markets and APMC market unions have long resisted the reforms. Jaydatta Holkar, chairman of Lasalgaon APMC in Nashik district, said the government decision “is ill-advised and wrong”.
“The government is claiming that the decision would help farmers get the best price for their produce. But the government can achieve it by announcing fair and guaranteed minimum support price for the farm produce including vegetables and fruits. Instead of doing that, the government is leaving farmers at the mercy of traders,” Holkar said. He said most vegetable and fruit growers typically sell their produce in bulk to traders.
“Farmers anyway sell it outside APMC markets to traders including those from outside the state. Those traders are making the profits and the government needs to bring in stricter regulation to stop this transaction. Not many farmers have the personal capacity to store perishable goods like vegetables and fruits and the APMC markets provide the necessary infrastructure that the farmers need to sell their produce,” Holkar said.
An official at state’s directorate of marketing, who requested anonymity, said that the reforms have been mandated by the Union government.
“These are long-pending reforms after we carried out the first phase. Even the previous government in Maharashtra tried to do this but did not push forward after the APMC unions protested. This time, the Union government has told Maharashtra to implement the reforms, ignoring the protest,” the official said, adding that the Centre has linked the APMC reforms with the modernization of agriculture marketing in the country.
“Presenting the Union Budget, finance minister Arun Jaitley specifically mentioned that states will qualify for the integration of their APMC markets into the National Agriculture Market only if they implement these reforms,” the official said.
Maharashtra legislator Narendra Patil, who is also general secretary of Maharashtra Rajya Mathadi, Transport, and General Kamgar Union, said all APMC trade unions across Maharashtra affiliated to the apex body would oppose this move.
“If more and more farm commodities are denotified from the APMC Act and taken out of APMC markets, it would render thousands of labourers and traders at APMC markets jobless. We have called for a meeting of the main office-bearers of major APMC trade unions in the state on 8 June to decide our strategy. All APMC trade unions would also observe a bandh on 8 June in protest,” Patil said.