APMCs across India worry about workers, traders health over Covid-19 curfew

Mandis across Maharashtra and Gujarat are grappling to meet daily needs in essential items such as fruits and vegetables, as well as food grains, amid safety of workers and traders.

Given the lockdown, smaller commodities such as spices and others have decided to remain close till March 31. In northern India, vegetable mandis have been complaining of lower offtake, in line with mandis in western India.

The Maharashtra government has said all vegetable shops and kirana stores will remain exempt from the lockdown order. The issue of safety and health of workers and traders are being addressed, with increased sanitisation, etc.

Traders in Vashi-based mandis said that on Wednesday, they would be closed, including vegetables and grains, due to holiday. Spices and dry fruits will be unavailable till March 31, while onions and potatoes will be available alternately.

The issue of traders’ and workers’ safety has taken precedence, along with arhatiyas (commission agents) coming there, which causes a big gathering.

“In a meeting with representatives of all sections, the formation of a committee to suggest ways to operate was decided, in order to address all issues, including maintaining the supply of essentials,” said Nilesh Veera, director of Vashi APMC.

The grain market is not yet sure whether it will be able to open on Thursday, following concerns of safety and security during the curfew.

“We have advised the Vashi APMC to remain open. Food grains, fruits, and vegetables being perishable commodities, we cannot allow shutdown of the entire mandi. While mathadis and other such workers have demanded protection through sufficient supply of sanitisers and masks, we have advised them to buy those that we will reimburse. Therefore, markets will remain open but the supply of commodities may be affected badly because of the sealing of state and district borders,” said Sunil Singatkar, director of Vashi APMC.

Bulk buyers such as hypermarkets, large retail chains, and bulk consumers have started purchasing fruits and vegetables directly from farmers to ensure uninterrupted supply.

“Arrivals of fruits, vegetables and other commodities have declined drastically as farmers have slowed harvesting. In addition, direct selling to bulk buyers has hit supply. Supply of perishable goods is likely to remain lower till the COVID-19 issue normalises,” said Santosh Patil, chairman of APMC Sangli.

Gujarat grain mandis shut

While there has been no official circular from the state government’s agriculture and farmers’ welfare department, APMCs engaged in wholesale trading of non-perishables like grains and pulses have shut operations. The Unjha market, dealing in non-essentials, is also closed.

“We are monitoring all APMCs in the state. The government has not given any directive to close APMCs but we are encouraging staggered operations so that the logistics and supply chain network is established, and without disruption. APMCs dealing in non-perishables like grains and pulses are suspending operations on their own, after consultation with farmer groups. Even dairies are functioning and we are monitoring supply of milk," Manish Bhardwaj, secretary (agriculture, farmers’ welfare and co-operation department), Gujarat government, told Business Standard.

Glut in Azadpur mandi New Delhi’s Azadpur has a problem similar to Mumbai. Arrivals are in excess, while lifting by small traders is low.

“Fruits trucks are arriving in the mandi but there isn’t any forward sale as the city and its adjoining areas under a lockdown, and labourers have fled to their villages fearing a crackdown,” said Rajkumar Bhatia, a prominent fruit merchant.

He said if the situation continues for few more days, they will have to cut down on arrivals or else there will be a pile-up. “We received 80-90 trucks of onions but just 10-20 could be sold as there was no vehicle to carry the goods to retailers,” said Rajinder Sharma, ex-head of Azadpur Mandi and a prominent onion trader. He said arrival of potatoes, on the other hand, was robust and demand was good.

Punjab follows suit

Most grain and vegetable markets and mandis were closed in the state on account of the curfew by the government in several places. Given it is the wheat procurement season, traders said purchases by state agencies might need to be delayed by at least a fortnight, as resources are unavailable.

“We are hearing that some sort of relaxation might be granted by the state government for mandis to operate smoothly,” said Omkar Singh Khaira, a leader from the BKU (Rajewal) faction in Punjab.

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