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Himachal HC Issues Strict Order in Case of Middlemen Fleecing Apple Farmers

Malvika Singh |
Orders Rs 60,40,000 solvent security to be paid within four weeks; Crores still pending
Himachal HC Issues Strict Order in Case of Middlemen Fleecing Apple Farmers

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Times of India

New Delhi: The Himachal Pradesh High Court on Wednesday issued a strong order in one of the cases of non-payment of crores of rupees to apple growers of Shimla. The High Court said in its order that one Pradeep Chauhan -- the “aarthi” (commission agents), has to deposit at least 50% of the over Rs 10 crore which he has to give to the farmers (50% of the total amount sums up to Rs 60,40,000) which has to be deposited as ‘solvent security’. The court said that the ‘solvent security’ has to be deposited within four weeks or the court would cancel the bail granted to Chauhan.

Justice Sureshwar Thakur ordered this during the hearing of the bail application of Chauhan who is the owner of Agrifresh Trade Centre. About 27 apple farmers had filed First Information Reports (FIRs) against this firm on March 26, 2019 in the Kotkhai police station, for not giving them nearly Rs 1.62 crore which was pending Chauhan.

After a long struggle, the order was passed for his arrest, against which he had gone to court and had sought bail. While hearing his bail plea on Wednesday, the court gave this order. According to reports published in local newspapers, Chauhan created this firm in 2013, named Agrifresh Trade Centre.

Initially, the firm gave a good price to farmers for their apple crop and also paid them on time, thereby establishing a trustworthy relationship between the firm and the farmers. However, the record which police has taken from the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) has revealed that this firm bought 54,048 apple boxes in 2015 but made no payments to farmers this period onward.

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Crores Pending with Middlemen

Apple farmers of Himachal have constantly complained to the government about the fraud and exploitation they face at the hands of aarthis in various mandis (markets). The Kisan Sangharsh Samiti has been struggling for justice in this multi-crore fraud by middlemen for quite some time now.

The farmers have for long been demanding that the marketing boards and APMC should be regulated under the provisions of the APMC Act, 2005. In addition, they have also been demanding that licenses should be issued under this Act to every businessmen, middlemen and loaders who are involved in procuring apples from farmers, making the process fully controlled by the Government.

“The farmers should be ensured that they will get a proper price for their produce. For this, we have also been demanding the implementation of a mandatory bank guarantee of at least Rs 50 lakh as protection from each buyer” Sanjay Chauhan, former Mayor of Shimla and the secretary of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti told NewsClick.

He said, "today, thousands of farmers have not been paid their dues by middlemen and other buyers, which run into crores. If the APMC Act, 2005 is implemented properly, most of the problem will be solved. But due to the government, marketing boards and the APMC’s lacklustre attitude, thousands of farmers are being fleeced in the mandis. The Kisan Sangharsh Samiti has also accused the government of working hand- in glove with the middlemen on many occasions. This is the reason that the number of fraudulent buyers and middlemen are increasing year after year."

Commenting on the recent judgement by the court, Chauhan said, “farmers are struggling to get back their own money. Today, there are thousands of farmers of the state whose money is stuck with the middlemen but no authority is acting promptly. Due to the struggle of the Samiti over the last couple of years, the administration and the police have acted under pressure to some extent, but even today only those farmers get their money who either go to court or file FIRs. The middlemen have become so fearless that there have been cases of farmers receiving death threats upon filing complaints or raising their voices against injustice.”

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Inefficient Investigation by Authorities

Nearly 100 villagers have registered FIRs in Theog, Kotkhai, Chaila, Jubbal and Narkanda Police Stations. Out of these, in November 2018, a total of 17 farmers were given Rs 24 lakh in Theog police station by the accused middlemen in the case. In this case also, the High Court had taken strong cognizance and had said that the accused would not be granted bail until he made the payment to farmers, and the other accused was put behind bars and was only released upon repayment.

The Kisan Sangharsh Samiti says that, “if justice can be given to farmers in one case by properly conducting an enquiry, then why are the authorities not conducting enquiries into other cases of frauds by middlemen? It’s the court which has to intervene to give justice.”

The Samiti accused the government of not taking any concrete action on their demands. Therefore, it has decided to organise farmers and hold protest demonstrations for their demands on June 24 in Shimla, after which they will hand over a memorandum to the Chief Minister.

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