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Covid-19: APMC markets reopen in Mumbai, Pune amid food crisis fear

Maharashtra has 305 APMCs across the state, which regulate purchase and sale of agriculture commodities in designated markets. (Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint)Premium
Maharashtra has 305 APMCs across the state, which regulate purchase and sale of agriculture commodities in designated markets. (Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint)

  • APMC authorities in Mumbai have decided to issue special employee ID cards, approved by FSSAI and endorsed by Maharashtra police
  • The state has allowed APMCs to act as self-regulatory firms to ensure there is no disruption in supply chains of essential food items

MUMBAI: The Maharashtra government has urged the agricultural produce market committees (APMC) in Mumbai and Pune to resume operations by Thursday, albeit with only 25% manpower and 20% transportation, due to concerns over shortage of foodgrains amid the coronavirus (covid-19) crisis.

The state has also allowed the APMCs to act as self-regulatory organisations and formulate their own set of rules to ensure there is no disruption in supply chains of essential goods--foodgrains, vegetables and fruits--and to keep prices in check.

Mumbai APMC president Nilesh Veera confirmed this to Mint.

In Mumbai and its suburban areas alone, about one lakh people manage five markets under the APMC in the city. This had increased the risk of transmission of the deadly virus, leading to briefly shutting down the APMC markets last week.

Foodgrains are the only items that are supplied to retail markets via APMCs, while for vegetables and fruits, the state allows direct supply from farms to retailers. This will change now.

“The APMC decided on Monday that it will resume operations from Wednesday or Thursday with one-fourth of its actual capacity. Accordingly, the number of trucks entering the APMC market is likely to be curtailed from 1,200 trucks to 300 and the number of people who can enter the market from the suppliers side will be curtailed from 6,000 to 1500 per day," said Veera.

APMC faces difficulty in resuming operations amid the lockdown. The committee has told the state government that its staff is not able to commute since local trains are not operational and police officials do not allow people to travel in buses unless they are recognised as essential services providers.

To avoid crowding these markets by retail shopkeepers, who provide last-mile link to customers, the APMC authorities in Mumbai have also decided to issue special identity cards, approved by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and endorsed by Maharashtra police.

APMCs in both Mumbai and Pune, worst-hit cities in Maharashtra, have decided to follow same self-framed rules to be able to keep the wholesale markets open, said Veera.

“We have to make our rule and start working on our own. There are some issues. We will need some clearances from police. Our people are mostly being blocked everywhere in the city. There are many people who come to APMC by train but now the trains are shut. The government has promised us that they will provide buses from areas like Dombivali to APMC markets. They haven’t provided us that till today," said Veera.

He said conductors of BEST buses in Mumbai often refuse APMC workers to board. “And, when they are travelling on a bus the cops are often telling these people to get down. If this is the state of affairs then we can’t work. I need my full staff with me to work. The concern is that ID cards and means of travelling are not in place yet. The ID card is issued by the APMC and need to be endorsed by the police," said Veera.

In addition, to avoid over-crowding in the APMC premises, Veera said the APMC management has decided to issue special passes to customers. But this can be complicated.

“Once you enter the market there is no cross check because it is a vast area. That increases the risk, so on Monday, in-principle we have decided that without ID cards no market participant will be allowed. We are contemplating how do we identify the customers and how do we issue cards to them," said Veera, adding that the APMC has told many of its customers not to come to the area.

“This is a funny part because I am running a market and I am telling my customers not to come. This is a big dilemma. All my sales are on credit, so if I tell my customers not to come they will be more than happy because they may say when we call them they will pay their dues. That is a loss. What we have proposed to the government that the customer should do his KYC which can be done by his banker by providing his FSSAI license. Once the KYC is completed and the approval comes we can ask the APMC to issue a special pass for a limited period. This is the work in progress. We can't have piecemeal approvals; it should be in totality," said Veera.

APMC is also negotiating with transporters on the process to be followed to curtail the number of trucks entering these markets.

“Delivery of food-grains happens on alternate days. We can’t identify which vehicle belongs to whom and whose delivery is happening when. That’s why all this mess-up. We have proposed that either the number of trucks entering the market should be curtailed or the time for which a truck can stand in the market should be curtailed. The idea is that there should be fixed entry timings for trucks and ensure that all the trucks leave the market before 9 pm so that we can do the sanitization," said Veera.

However, once APMC limits the number of operational trucks, there may be slight disruption in the supply chain, Veera said.

“If the suggestion works and the situation comes under control, we can gradually increase the number of trucks. The state government has told us to decide on these rules fast by acting like a self-regulatory organization and resume the APMC market. They said that the government will make an announcement that the APMC market is beginning operations from 15 April. We have told the government in good faith that we can start operations as long as the proposals made by us get through. Everyone is looking up to us and we don’t want to set any wrong example."

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