As the central government plans to replace the Agriculture Market Produce Committee (APMC) system with National Agriculture Market (e-NAM), future of the 307 APMCs and their 900 sub-centres in Maharashtra hangs in balance.
APMCs are people-driven systems where farmers elect their representatives, and boards appoint agents who then buy the produce from the farmers. However, there have been allegations of agents creating a cartel and fixing low prices for the crop. In that case, farmers have no choice but to sell the produce at whatever price is being offered.
“APMCs are unable to give [fair] prices to the farmers. That’s why we are asking state governments to reject it and adopt the new online system. This will enable farmers to get right prices for their crops,” said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The decision has met with mixed reactions in the state. Ajit Navale of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) told NewsClick, “The medicine is more harmful than the disease. If you think that APMCs are not working properly, then make a stronger law and ensure its implementation. But snatching away control of the selling process and handing it over to the multinational companies is unfair,” said Navale.
Sachin Bhosale from Shirol, who has won a range of awards on national and state level for innovative farming, said: “Local politicians try to control the APMCs for their political network. They have been overlooking wrongdoings of agents and such cartels. But farmers do have rights here to vote them out during elections. If you scrap this system and bring in e-NAM, then farmers will lose control. We see number of such cartels in various online systems including railway ticket booking. People don’t have control on these systems now. Farmers, already stressed by a number of things, can’t survive this international cartel system.”
Instead of scrapping the APMCs, farmers suggest, a transparent online system should be brought to these markets—so that the farmers can access the inwards register and know the rates of the crop each day. This will help them to get more rates.
“Localised online businesses will achieve the goal of giving fair prices to the farmers. At the same time, farmers will have control on APMCs in their respective areas,” said former MP and farmers’ leader, Raju Shetti.
Farmers fear that the new system will be introduced in haste without giving any time to the farmers to be familiar with it. “We have seen that during the implementation of GST. This government is known for such hasty decisions. If it happens with the APMCs as well, the entire rural economy will collapse. The damage will be huge,” said former MLA and a leader of Peasant and Worker Party (PWP), Ganpatrao Deshmukh.
In Maharashtra, APMCs—especially those with high turnover—are mainly controlled by Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has tried time and again to change this equation in the state, as APMCs, sugar mills and dairies can help political parties access a wide voter base comprising farmers.
“BJP, which has always tried hard to bring APMCs or rural economy under its control, especially in Maharashtra, is trying again with this new idea. Everyone knows that the big multinational companies are currently sympathisers of the BJP. So, ultimately union government will have lot of control on the entire business. I think, opposition parties, especially Congress and NCP will oppose this strongly,” said Sanjay Jog, senior business journalist from Maharashtra.
Experts feel that once the dust around government formation settles down, APMCs will be the new battleground for the political parties in the state.