Simmering resentment among onion farmers in Nashik, who are being forced to sell their produce in jute bags, took a violent turn on Wednesday with the farmers allegedly attacking the office of the chairman of the Lasalgaon agriculture produce market committee (APMC). Onion arrivals have taken a beating with arrivals dropping to barely 2,000-odd quintals on a daily basis since the market has re-opened, after a gap of 17 days.
The Lasalgaon mandi in the district is the biggest in the country for onions and dictates price trends for the commodity across India. On Wednesday morning, the newly-formed Farmers Action Committee (which comprises of leaders of all political parties) attempted to hold talks with traders, urging them to go back to the old system of trading where farmers brought the produce loos to the market. According to Nanasaheb Patil, former chairman of the Lasalgaon APMC and member of the Farmers Action Committee (FAC), farmers urged traders to either go back to the old system of auctions or use the same form of auctions that are prevalent elsewhere in the state.
“The jute bag system of trading is prevalent in all other market committees such as Pune and Ahmednagar, among other places.In these markets, the farmer brings the produce in jute bags, gives them to the commission agent who gives him money for the labour and weighing charges, and after the auctions are conducted, also pays the farmer for his produce. However, now in Nashik, the farmer brings the produce to the commission agent, who checks samples. The farmer then has to get the onions weighed on his own and deliver the produce to the godown of the buyer, which is not only a time-consuming process but also a tedious one. Therefore, arrivals are dropping at these markets and several markets are yet to commence auctions in Nashik district,” Patil said.
Patil said that traders in Lasalgaon are not ready to follow the same system of auctions as other market committees; talks which had commenced at 9 am went on until 4 pm without any success and after a point, farmers became restive and lost control, attacking the office of the chairman, he said.
The police had to resort to a mild lathi charge to disperse the crowds, a senior official from the Lasalgaon market committee told FE. Onion auctions have not been taking place in areas including Kalwan, Deola, Yeola and Satana APMCs in the district for some days.
Auctions resumed on Thursday but arrivals dropped to some 2,000 quintals. Traders have said the new system of trading will continue till August 6 and a final decision will be taken at the meeting of the district committee of traders. Nandkumar Daga, president, Lasalgaon Onion Traders Association, said that some traders were present for the meeting with the farmers who later attacked the premises of the APMC. Patil said that traders, along with the market committee management, had arrived at the decision of trading in jute bags without taking farmers into confidence. Traders are holding farmers to ransom and are pushing everything onto the farmer, he said.
“Normally, arrivals during this time of the year is around 1.5 to 2 lakh quintals at all the 14 market committees. This has dropped to some 20,000 quintals. In Lasalgaon alone, arrivals touch 20,000 quintals on a daily basis and this has come down to some 1,000 to 2,000 quintals. Farmers, who do not have any option and need money for the kharif season, are bringing their produce in gunny bags,” he said.
Jaydutta Holkar, chairman, Lasalgaon APMC, had earlier said that that several farmers were not happy with the new form of trading since the cost of bags has to be borne by them. This also means an additional expense of R70-80 per quintal for the farmer. In addition to the bags, he also has to pay the labour charges for hauling the onions onto the trolley, Holkar pointed out. The market committees in Nashik had decided to commence trading using jute bags on an experimental basis until August 6.
Nanasaheb Patil has said that the farmers have decided to wait until August 6 for the decision by traders. The Farmers Action Committee will hold a meeting on August 7 and if farmers are unhappy with the decision taken by traders, there could be an agitation, he warned. “At present, onions arriving in the market are of summer crop harvested in March and April. These stored summer onions are already four months old and will start spoiling because of monsoon. Hence, farmers are worried about the stored onions.”