Who will introduce the reforms in the APMCs?
When farmers like Suresh Solanke walk into the premises of the Agricultural Commodity Market Committee (APMC) in Dharur in Beed district of Maharashtra, they don’t know what will happen to their produce.
Like all other APMCs in the state, the APMC in Dharur is dominated by politicians, who act as directors and run the show with the help of traders and arhtiyas (commission agents).
âOnce the farmer enters the APMC, he is at the mercy of traders and arhtiyas. Farmers are helpless, âsays Suresh. He adds that farmers are probably the only producers in India who do not have the right to decide the price of their own produce.
âIn many places the price is already decided and the farmer just has to sell the product at a fixed price. Farmers cannot even take their produce back because they take it to the market by traveling 60 to 70 km, âexplains Vilas Nakhate, a farmer.
Farmers say Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement to repeal farm laws must have been a sigh of relief for APMC directors, traders and arhtiyas, who were nervous about farm laws, especially of the Agricultural Trade and Commerce Act, which promised to create an ecosystem where farmers and traders could enjoy the freedom of choice in selling and buying agricultural products.
The Trade and Commerce Act aimed to promote barrier-free, interstate and intrastate trade and commerce outside the physical premises of markets notified under national agricultural marketing laws. The move was aimed at unblocking the country’s largely regulated agricultural markets.
The Union government introduced this law saying that it will open more choices for farmers, reduce marketing costs for them and help to obtain better prices.
According to the government, this would also have helped farmers in surplus regions obtain better prices and consumers in shortage regions lower prices. Farmers suffer from various restrictions in the marketing of their products and the sale of their agricultural products outside the notified marketing courses of the APMC.
Those who opposed the laws claimed that a majority of farmers sell their products outside the APMC, and the government wants to destroy the APMC market system for the benefit of private actors. While many admitted that the APMC system has its flaws, they insisted that these flaws need to be removed and APMCs need to be strengthened.
“Who’s going to do this?” Asks Bharat Dighole, president of the Maharashtra State Onion Growers Association. âAll APMCs are political haunts where politicians and traders have a monopoly. These are hand gloves for tapping farmers. The APMCs manage millions of rupees in the form of cess and these people will resist any reform, âhe said.
Onion growers in Lasalgaon, Asia’s largest onion market, who are struggling to break the monopoly of APMC traders, say the prime minister’s announcement is a setback to their efforts.
Only a few months ago, Sadhana Jadhav, director of the Krishi Sadhana Society, came to Lasalgaon market to participate in the auction and buy onions for NAFED. The company was the nodal agency appointed by NAFED.
Local traders were unhappy with the decision and boycotted the auction. No new trader is allowed to break the chain and enter the trading circle.
âIn all APMCs, you will have the link between the directors of APMC and the traders. This chain has been in place for years now. This APMC system has tightened the noose around farmers’ necks, âDighole added. Farmers say arhtiyas in APMCs act as a money lender and farmers borrow from them at excessive interest rates. There is a vicious circle in which farmers take advances on standing crops and are forced to sell the produce through arthiyas.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, there are 6,946 regulated wholesale APMC mandis, which are supposed to ensure transparency of the pricing system. Trader organizations and directors of APMCs have repeatedly refuted claims by farmers that APMCs only facilitate trade and that farmers benefit from the system. However, farmers have another story to tell.
Now, with the Prime Minister’s announcement of the repeal of the laws, farmers are unsure of who will introduce reforms in APMCs to shut down their operations.
(This is the second in the five-part series on repeal of agricultural laws)