On this cloudy Monday morning, the humble cauliflower was found selling at Rs 8 per kg in parts of the state capital. At that very moment, its field level price around Biharsharif – less than 100 kms away, averaged Rs 2.50 per kg. Again, tomato was being quoted at Rs 8 per kg, more than twice the field rate in similarly distant Dumraon.
It is an unhappy situation. Farmers complain they can’t get remunerative prices for their perishables. Consumers in Patna worry about the toll high vegetable prices are taking on their home budget.
Even those in office are acutely conscious that extreme prices, high or low, can be an unhealthy political prescription in a predominantly agrarian economy that is Bihar.
But change is now underway and in a dramatic fashion, too. The Nitish Kumar government is set to facilitate the opening of agricultural mega-marts at Patna and three other places in the State to serve as marketing hubs for fresh farm produce.
Equipped with state-of-the-art storage facilities, these hubs are expected to address price differentials to a significant extent.
“These will serve as terminal markets for farmers. They will be operated through public-private partnership. An open tender will be floated soon to select the private sector partner for the first of such hyper marts to be set up at Fatuha near Patna,” Bihar Agricultural Production Commissioner (APC) NS Madhavan said in response to a Hindustan Times query.
The APC confirmed 38 acres of land had already been acquired for the project at Fatuha. “It is a central government scheme for which Bihar is one of the five states to be selected. The State government will bear 50 per cent of the its estimated Rs 200-crore cost. After Patna, terminal markets will be set up at Bhagalpur, Purnia and one more place,” he revealed.
Madhavan said collection centres for fresh farm produce would come up in and around the State Capital as part of the project.
“The idea is to ensure good price deals for both farmers and consumers by creating the desired infrastructure for supporting perishables,” he explained. This, interestingly, is precisely what Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav is also keen to do.
“The Railways’ move to raise an agricultural marketing and processing hub on its newly-acquired Rohtas Industries land in western Bihar seems geared for similar goals. In a sense, the terminal market project is the government’s first foray into organized procurement/retail ahead of the arrival of private players,” said Bihar Industries Association president KPS Kesri.
Handled properly, he agreed, the initiative would make good economic sense. And a telling political point for Lalu’s arch rival, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar!
Email Rai Atul Krishna: firstname.lastname@example.org