Maharashtra de-regularises entire farm sector trade

Farmers in Maharashtra can now sell their produce to anyone – they no longer have to go via Agriculture Market Produce Committees or mandis. The state government on Saturday announced a set of reforms fully opening up agricultural trade, which will allow farmers to sell grains, cereals, oilseeds and pulses directly to individual buyers and corporate clients. The previous state government had freed trade in fruit and vegetables from control of APMCs in July 2016.

Farmers’ organisations have cautiously welcomed the decision; it was a longstanding demand of theirs that the APMCs’ monopoly over agricultural trade should be abolished. They accused APMC traders of forming cartels in order to depress the price of produce.

The state government’s move followed the Centre’s decision to this effect in June. (As agriculture comes under the Concurrent List of the Constitution, each state had to issue a separate notification.) There are 306 APMCs in the state and their annual turnover in the financial year 2019-20 was around Rs.48,000 crore.

“Now big retail chains can directly enter into trade with farmers without intervention of intermediaries and make available food products at reasonable rates to consumers,” a senior official from the agriculture marketing department said.

Nashik-based farm rights activist Giridhar Patil welcomed the decision. “The agricultural trade is a specialised trade. Grading of stock, deciding their price, sorting them out, storing them… all this requires both knowledge and infrastructure. It will take time to create an alternate system, outside the APMC system,” he said.

Raju Shetti, former MP and president of the Swabhimani Shetkari Saghtana, also welcomed the decision. “The APMC system gives security of payment to farmers. And if the government wants to provide the same security to farmers under the new system, it should make mandatory to traders to get licence from the agriculture marketing department of the state government and also seek bank guarantee from traders.”

AK Chavan, secretary of Navi Mumbai APMC, which is largest in the state, said the APMCs will have to become competitive to survive and the state government should reduce cess and other fees that are charged on turnover at APMC.

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