New Delhi: Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be the first states to take up a new Union government proposal to modernize the dilapidated market centres or mandis that deal in the trade of foodgrains, fruit and vegetables.
After the makeover, the new markets will have electronic auction centres, laboratories for quality testing, farmer advisory services and storage facilities, apart from banks and post offices.
Of all these measures, the addition of storage facilities is perhaps the most important. The state-of-the-art facilities are expected to wipe out losses—estimated at 7% in the 32 grain markets in Rajasthan that are being overhauled—arising out of foodgrains not being provided adequate storage.
In all, Rajasthan plans to overhaul 57 of its 125 markets in the first phase at a cost of Rs150 crore.
According to Vipin Chandra Sharma, administrator of the Rajasthan State Agricultural Marketing Board, 19 of these get top priority, including the sprawling coriander market in Kota, the cumin market in Jodhpur, the roses market in Ajmer and the onion market in Alwar. Rajasthan is the country’s largest producer of cumin and coriander.
The comprehensive proposal formulated by the National Institute of Agricultural Marketing (NIAM) under the agriculture ministry includes mandatory sorting and grading lines, the provision of electronic auction halls and the labelling and electronic tracking of each lot brought to the market, with specific identification codes for each of them.
The lot identification numbers would allow the produce to be traced up to the producer level. It could also be used to identify and document the agricultural practices followed, including the use of pesticides, fertilizers and other inputs. Once in place, it has the potential for access to high-value markets overseas and the high-end organic market in India.
The proposal includes electronic linking of the upgraded markets into a realtime network with large electronic display boards, which will instantly display information about trading in other markets linked to it, including price trends and volumes of arrivals and sales. This system is already operational in 60 markets in Madhya Pradesh.
It also recommends closed circuit television surveillance of the operations of each of the auction platforms and other areas of the market.
Says Anurag Bhatnagar, director general of NIAM, “The electronic part of it will function on a build-own-and-operate basis. The vendor to whom it will be outsourced will provide the service for a fee.”
He adds that even the linked cold storages will be outsourced to companies, to help them run more efficiently.
Agrees Kesar Singh, secretary of the fruit and vegetable market in Jaipur, “We plan to auction plots for cold storages very soon. Companies like Reliance and Hindustan Unilever have shown great interest.”
To facilitate the movement of produce, crates, trolleys and pushcarts would be provided at very nominal user charges. Other services that are suggested include insurance, dormitory accommodation and catering services.
The entire proposal was formulated by NIAM with the help of market research group Hansa Research and Yes Bank. Says Bhatnagar, “We especially studied market flow and ground-level trends before compiling the report. Civil works, which are most prone to corruption, were kept to the minimum,” he adds.
While Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have moved ahead on the plan, Andhra Pradesh has shown it to the state’s various market committees and will now be approaching banks for appraisal. The state government proposes to take up the complete revamp of 35 markets out of 305 in the first phase. Data on what it would cost the state exchequer could not be ascertained.
Other states like Punjab have also expressed interest in the project, which offers 25% central subsidy through the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development.
However, as agri-business consultant Vijay Sardana points out, “Creating infrastructure is not enough. It is the maintenance of these markets that is crucial. Rajasthan is a huge consumption centre and gets most fruit and vegetables from outside the state. There may not be much benefit to local farmers,” he says.