Milind Akare, MD, Maharashtra State Agriculture Marketing Board, told FE that the government feels farmers and APMCs need sufficient time till an alternate mechanism can be worked out. Meanwhile, market committees will continue to function as before, auctioning onions and potatoes until the new system is in place, he said.
The state government has also decided not to impose any stock holding limits on onions and potatoes under the Essential Commodities Act on the grounds that the majority of the stocks are with farmers and not traders. This decision was taken after the Centre directed various state governments to impose stock holding limits on onions and potatoes after the fluctuation in prices.
State agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil convened a meeting of the chairmen of APMCs and other stakeholders to take decisions on three issues, including onions and potatoes in the Essential Commodities Act, the denotification of onions and potatoes from APMCs and the minimum export price (MEP) for onions.
Both traders and mathadi or headload workers in Maharashtra have been up in arms against the Centres move to bring onions and potatoes under the Essential Commodities Act and delist them from the APMCs. They had decided to chalk out their agitation plan on July 17 in Mumbai but that has been called off after Vikhe Patil asked APMCs to function as before. Maharashtra has around 305 APMCs and onions are a main source of revenue for some 83 APMCs; potatoes are sold in 22 APMCs across the state.
The mathadi union has some 8 lakh mathadi workers. At APMCs Vashi site, over 25,000 mathadi workers are engaged in loading and unloading.
Akare said APMCs in the state will continue to deal on onions and potatoes in a normal manner until the parallel mechanism evolves for the benefit of farmers. The government will soon issue mass-scale direct procurement licences to farmer self-help groups in Maharashtra soon and will assist these in capacity building and direct marketing of the commodities, he said.
The APMCs were established for the benefit of the farmers and therefore what happens to the APMCs is a subordinate issue, he added. The marketing board will also open a farmer procurement centre in Mumbai. One of these is already functioning in Goregaon and some seven to eight outlets are already directly selling vegetables, he said.
The state government has already decided to delist fruits and vegetables from the APMC Act and the issue is under consideration of the government. The government has issued licences to 20 private markets with an investment of Rs 30 crore, 61 licences for direct marketing and 54 single licences to traders.
Narendra Patil, general secretary, Maharashtra Rajya Mathadi Transport and Kamgar Union, said that his union and the APMCs had called off the decision to hold a meet on July 17 following an assurance by the agriculture minister that the market committees will continue to function normally. The minister has made it clear that APMCs will continue to function until an alternative mechanism comes up. Where does the farmer sell his produce in the absence of the APMC The minister has also assured that release of onions and potatoes from the list of commodities will be treated on a case-to-case basis such as stopping the trade of onions and potatoes in a phased manner in, say, Vashi market first or the Pune market later, Patil explained.
Moreover, 3-5 acres of land will be required to create a farmers market. Creating this infrastructure will require time, Patil said. Patil pointed out that the farmers market that is currently functioning at Manjari in Pune has not been doing too well and some of the farmers now preferred to go to the APMC to sell their produce since they had a guarantee of payment and were not responsible in case stocks remained unsold.
Nanasaheb Patil, chairman, Lasalgaon APMC, said market committees in the state would continue to function normally after an assurance given by the minister that an alternative mechanism will require time. Sohanlal Bhandari, president, Onion Traders Association, Nashik, said a decision will be taken after the government resolution comes into effect.