Current stir by non-NDA parties is despite knowing that APMCs were looting the farmers.

 

New Delhi: Notwithstanding the vocal opposition in Parliament, in TV studios and on social media that has been mounted by the non-NDA parties against the agriculture bills, the same parties had in 2019, as part of the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, agreed that there was urgent need for radical reforms in the agriculture sector and that the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs) were looting the farmers.

Not just at the Central level, Prime Minister Narendra Modi—who had started to work on the much-delayed agricultural reforms even before the May 2019 general elections—had also involved the state leaders and Chief Ministers, including from the Congress, in the discussion on how to bring about radical reforms in the agriculture sector. This is contrary to the narrative being pushed by the Opposition that the farmer bills were brought “suddenly” and without any discussion.

As the rules stipulate, 31 lawmakers—21 from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha—who were part of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, which presented the 62nd report on 12 December 2019, among other suggestions and observations, had stated that the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees Act (APMC Act) had become the “hot bed of politics, corruption and monopoly of traders and middleman” while further adding that it was “restricting promotion of multiple channels of marketing and competition in the system” which was hurting the farmers, especially the small farmers.

There are 24 Departmentally Related Standing Committees, with the Committee on Agriculture being one of them. These committees, whose term of office does not exceed one year, are mandated to exhaustively study and consider the specific issues at hand.

Interestingly, out of these 31 members, only 13 were from the BJP—10 from the Lok Sabha and three from the Rajya Sabha. The remaining 18 MPs (11 from the Lok Sabha and 7 Rajya Sabha) were from other parties including Congress, BSP, All India Trinamool Congress, NCP, MDMK, TRS, Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United), YSR Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

The 11 non-BJP Lok Sabha members, who were a part of the standing committee, included Afzal Ansari (BSP), A. Ganeshamurthi (MDMK), Abu Taher Khan (AITC), Amol Ramsing Kolhe (NCP), Bheemrao Baswanthrao Patil (TRS), Navneet Ravi Rana (Independent), Vinayak Bhaurao Raut (Shiv Sena), Pocha Brahmananda Reddy (YSR Congress), Mohammad Sadique (Congress), V.K. Sreekandan (Congress) and Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP).

From the Rajya Sabha, the seven non-BJP members were Partap Singh Bajwa (Congress), Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa (SAD), Ram Nath Thakur (JDU), Vaiko (MDMK), R. Vaithilingam (AIADMK), Chhaya Verma (Congress) and Chandrapal Singh Yadav (SP).

The standing committee, which was headed by BJP MP from Karnataka, P.C Gaddigoudar, found that “the APMC Act which was enacted in various state governments with the objectives to ensure an environment for fair play for supply and demand forces thereby resulting in an effective price discovery for farm produce, regulate market practices and attain transparency in transactions, has become hotbed of politics, corruption and monopoly of traders and middleman”.

The Committee members further stated that the APMC markets across the country “were not working in the interest of farmers due to various reasons such as limited numbers of traders in APMCs markets thereby reducing competition, cartelization of traders, undue deduction in the name of market fee, commission charges etc”.

The report stated that the provisions of the APMC Acts were not being implemented in their true sense. “Market fee and commission charges are legally to be levied on traders; however, the same is collected from farmers by deducting the amount from farmers’ net proceeds,” the report stated.

The Committee also noted that “provisions in the APMC Act in some states are so restrictive to the interest of farmers that market fee is levied even when sale of agriculture produce takes place outside the market yard. The Committee members were informed that market fee is collected in some states even without actual trade-transaction having taken place and simply on landing the commodity at processing units and some states treat transaction outside the market yard as illegal. Multiple licences are required for trading in multiple APMC markets and multiple market fees on the same commodity even within the state are collected. The Committee further notes that APMC Acts are highly restrictive in promotion of multiple channels of marketing and competition in the system”.

According to the Committee members, there was an urgent need for radical reforms in the APMC Act in order to provide justice to the farmers. According to the members, the state governments had given a lukewarm response when it came to reforming the APMC market.

“Remunerative pricing for the farmers cannot be ensured unless a number of marketing platforms for farm produce are enhanced and the functioning of APMC markets is made democratic and transparent. The Committee appreciates the efforts of the government for reforms in the APMC market. However, the Committee is surprised to note the lukewarm response of the state governments towards reforms in the APMC market. The Committee is also of the opinion that provisions regarding entry fee and other cess levied on transaction of agriculture produce should be done away with as it will help to reduce corruption and malpractices prevalent in APMC markets. The Committee would like the government to hold discussion with the state governments to abolish entry fee and other cess in APMC markets.”

The Committee further noted that existing marketing platforms available to the majority of small and marginal farmers were inadequate to sell surplus agriculture produce and ensure remunerative prices for their investment. “Various factors such as distance to the nearest APMC market, dominance of middleman in APMCs, lack of transportation facilities etc. are major factors which propel majority of small and marginal farmers to use the services of local middleman or shops to dispose of their surplus agriculture produce much below the Minimum Support Prices (MSP) announced by the government.”

According to the committee report, despite the success of the farmers in ensuring food security of the country, they were not able to get remunerative pricing for their produce. “The Committee further notes that the procurement of rice and wheat by the government agencies (FCI and state government agencies) are one of the main platforms available to the farmers for sale of agriculture produce. However, the Committee notes that the government was able to procure only 358.82 million tonnes of wheat as against production of 1340.02 miilion tonnes (26.77 %) and 487.60 million tonnes of rice as against production of 1557.75 million tonnes (31.30%) during the period of 2002-03 to 2017- 18.”

Further, the Committee members observed that small and marginal farmers, who constitute the majority of the farming community in the country, lack access to government procurement facilities for agriculture produce due to various reasons such as small agriculture surplus, distance to the procurement centre, delay in payment, cumbersome bureaucratic procedure etc. “These factors and lack of alternative marketing platforms lead to a situation where farmers do not have any option but to sell their produce to middlemen with very little and no profit at all. The Committee is of the opinion that failure of the Central and state governments to ensure transparent and easily accessible marketing platforms for agriculture produce is one of the reasons for poor financial condition of the majority of farmers of the country. There is a need to create platforms for marketing of agriculture produce so that access of farmers to the end consumers may be enhanced. This will help to ensure remunerative pricing for agricultural produce and therefore increase the income of farmers,” the report states.

There are 6,630 APMC markets in 23 states and five union territories. There are no APMC markets in the states of Bihar, Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram and Sikkim and in the UTs of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and D&N Haveli.

“The Committee further notes that the status of infrastructure and other civic facilities in APMC markets varies widely across the country and only 65% market have 25% facility of toilets, whereas only 38% markets have Farmers Rest House. The Committee further notes that only 15% APMC markets have a cold storage facility, whereas weighing facility is available in only 49% markets. These APMC markets also fare poorly in banking, internet connectivity and drying facilities. The Committee has also been informed that civic infrastructure at most of the APMC markets are in a very bad shape causing inconvenience to the farmers. The Committee, therefore, recommends the government to initiate consultation with the state government concerned to enhance the number of agriculture markets in the country and for improvement of civic infrastructure, banking facility, digital connectivity and other facilities in APMC markets. The Committee desires the government to devise a Centrally-sponsored scheme for modernisation of APMC markets in the country,” the report states.

Apart from involving the Members of Parliament to discuss these agricultural reforms, the Central government in July 2019 had constituted a high-powered committee of Chief Ministers for transforming agriculture under the convenorship of Devendra Fadnavis, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra. The Member Secretary of the committee was Prof Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog. The committee also had Captain Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab; Kamal Nath, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh; Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana; Narender Singh Tomar, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and Panchayati Raj; Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha; Pema Khandu, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh; Vijay Rupani, Chief Minister of Gujarat; and Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.

This high-powered committee had its first meeting on 18 July 2019, during which it was decided to bring amendments to the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act and Essential Commodities Act. The second meeting of the committee was held in Mumbai on 16 August 2019. According to official sources, the report of this committee has already been submitted to the CEO of NITI Aayog.