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NEW DELHI : Several states are working on plans to ease the hardships of farmers who have had to dump their produce, especially perishables such as fruits and vegetables, because of transportation curbs during the lockdown. The distress sales have sparked growing discontent among a key constituency of political parties.

To ease their burden, at least four states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh—have given farmers the freedom to sell their produce to an entity of their choice by amending the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act, which required farmers to sell their produce through registered intermediaries at designated mandis.

Similar moves for easing sale of produce and helping distressed farmers are being implemented in Congress-ruled states as well.

Rajasthan, for instance, has allowed farmers to sell their produce directly to traders; Chhattisgarh is rolling out a direct cash transfer of a maximum of 10,000 per acre subject to conditions, which is expected to benefit 2 million of them, while Punjab has extended procurement of wheat produced in the rabi season till the end of the month, as many of them could not reach mandis because of travel curbs.

The states expect removing intermediaries in the purchasing process will not only help farmers boost their income but also reduce prices for consumers.

“It is a new step, an experiment which we believe will not only benefit farmers in the short run but also help in increasing the income of farmers in the future. Farmers have suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic as they found it difficult to reach APMC because of the nationwide lockdown," said a senior cabinet minister in the Uttar Pradesh government.

The BJP believes that this decision would allow farmers sell their produce directly by entering into contracts with companies that procure fresh vegetables and foodgrain, the minister said.

“This would also help a group of farmers to jointly enter into contracts with large companies and grow a specific produce based on demand. This would not only increase the income of farmers but they would not be dependent on middlemen also," the minister added.

A senior government official at the agriculture department of Rajasthan said that while sale of produce was eased keeping in mind the need for enhanced social distancing, the move was not aimed at dismantling APMCs.

“The suggestion for having a mandi in every 10 sq. km was made in a proposal for doubling farm income. The idea for direct sale is to bring mandis closer to villages and Panchayats, as well as to reduce the transportation costs that farmers incur," the official cited above said.

“This is a more decentralized approach. It is bound to give farmers the freedom to sell where they want and earn a better price for their produce," he added.

However, some political parties and experts questioned the moves.

“We do not know if this would actually benefit farmers or not. APMCs were created to protect farmers and give them a decent price for their produce; but with these changes, we do not know how the farmers will be protected because there would be no record of the price at which a farmer has managed to sell the produce," said Sudhir Panwar, senior leader of Samajwadi Party and an expert on issues related to rural economy.

Panwar said that the move is aimed at promoting contract farming.

gyan.v@livemint.com

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