The series of protests against the agricultural marketing reforms introduced through three Ordinances in June are a clear indication of lingering misgivings about some aspects of these pro-farmer measures. These reforms, pending for long, have dismantled the monopoly of Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs) to give farmers the freedom to sell their produce to whoever and wherever they feel like. Setting up private agricultural markets has also been permitted to offer competition to the APMC
mandis. Goods traded outside the mandi yards have also been exempt from market charges. However, as could be expected, the response of different stakeholders — state governments, APMCs, traders, and farmers — to this move has varied with their specific interests. The differences are reflected also in the issues raised during the recent strikes in agricultural mandis in several states.
The majority of the state governments, including some of those which were earlier hesitant to bring about these changes, have accepted the Centre’s initiative either openly or tacitly. But some others have called it an assault on federalism, given that agriculture is a state subject. Another set of states, which include Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu, are comfortable with the Ordinances as they have already amended their APMC
Acts to allow out-of-mandi transactions of farm commodities. Punjab, however, is an odd case. The Congress-led government of the state is disparaging the Centre’s move despite having already tweaked its own APMC
statute to allow more or less similar liberties as mooted in the Ordinances. It is also threatening to challenge it in court on grounds of encroachment on the states’ domain. Legal luminaries, however, feel that the Constitution provides for Central intervention in agricultural marketing and that the dissent is politically motivated.
The APMCs and a section of traders, on the other hand, have their own grievances against the opening up of farm trade. They are, in fact, at loggerheads with one another as well on the issue of mandi charges. The traders (arhtiyas) operating within the mandis want these levies waived to have a level playing field with those who conduct their business outside the markets without paying any tax. The APMCs, in contrast, are seeking retention of these imposts because these are their primary source of funds to run the mandis. This issue merits urgent attention.
The farmers, for whose benefit these reforms have been carried out, are also not unanimous in welcoming it though most of them have hailed it as a right move. A section of them, influenced largely by the disinformation being floated by the anti-reforms lobby, are wary of it. Farm unions with Left leanings are projecting these reforms as a step towards ending the minimum support prices and procurement regime, exposing the farmers to exploitation by traders. An intense awareness campaign is, therefore, called for to dispel these apprehensions and assure the farmers that neither the existing mandi infrastructure nor the support price-based procurement system is proposed to be abolished. The proposed measures are meant chiefly to widen the marketing choices for the farmers. This apart, steps are also needed to ensure that the farmers selling their produce outside the mandis would get their payment on time and in full measure. Otherwise, the very purpose of these reforms would be defeated.