Despite resistance from legislators, the Himachal government has approved the policy which allows the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) to allocate funds for construction of roads and ropeways that will enable farmers to transport their produce to the markets.
The policy, which was being opposed by a group of legislators, was approved last night by a three member sub-committee of the APMC. The policy will now be sent to Upma Chawdhary, additional chief secretary (agriculture), for approval. The committee met under former legislator Subash Manglate, who is the chairman of APMC, while advisor Devinder Shyam and managing director HS Baweja were also present.
In the draft policy, the committee has put riders on the allocation of funds, making it evident that there was no going back on the decision resisted by legislators. Under the new policy, the APMC can allocate works amounting to Rs 7 lakhs. Earlier, there was no limit on funds for a particular work.
Meanwhile, the funds for the works would be deposited with offices of divisional forest officers, block development officers and public works department. Similarly, works under APMC’s funds could be allocated through panchayats, farmer’s body and other local organisations.
According to the new policy, funds cannot be allocated for road of more than two kilometre length. Recommendations of local legislator and chairman of the district-level APMC will be considered and scrutinised before seeking the final approval from the board. The sub-committee has also made a provision that works for construction of ropeways will be allocated to certified nodal agencies only.
The APMC was set up in 2005 to improve the regulation in marketing of agricultural produce, development of efficient marketing system, promotion of agri processing and agricultural exports, establishment and proper administration of markets for agricultural produce in the Himachal Pradesh.
However, the government’s recent notification allowing APMC’s to allocate funds ran into controversy after 16 legislators shot off a letter to chief minister Virbhadra Singh, questioning the government’s move. Health minister Kaul Singh Thakur who also enjoys the backing of a section of Congress legislators, too, had written a letter to Virbhadra Singh, opposing the move The legislators, particularly Virbhadra Singh detractors, see it as the government’s move to checkmate their influence in respective constituencies.
The legislators in the letter maintained that the APMC should only be allowed to create the infrastructure for farmers. They complained that the decision could lead to misappropriation of funds. They said, earlier too, the APMC’s had carried work in the violation of the Forest Act.
In many places the roads constructed by the APMC were not even fit to carry the farmers produce. There is also growing fear amongst the legislators that the move would undermine their authority in the areas, as compared to APMC district units, the legislator’s grant has been fixed to a meagre Rs 75 lakh per annum.
As many as four chairmen of the APMC’s district committees have been appointed from the constituencies represented by the Congress legislators. While Mahender Stan, who is a chairman of APMC from Shimla region, is opposed to chief parliamentary secretary Rohit Thakur, Ramesh Thakur of Solan APMC hails from district’s constituency represented by social justice minister Dhani Ram Shandil. Upendera Mishra is chairman of Kullu district APMC and hails from Anni represented by Khub Ram. Harender Sen of Mandi hails from Sundernagar represented by chief parliamentary secretary Sohan Lal.
CM underplays the issue
Meanwhile, chief minister Virbhadra Singh on Tuesday denied having received letter from any legislator, opposing the empowerment of APMC. “I read the news that few legislators have been opposing it, but I have not received any letter from them. In the past, APMC had been doing the work of constructing link roads and ropeways for transportation of agricultural produce,” he said.
He also said there was no need to make such hue and cry over this issue. “These are small issues and there should not be any problem to anybody with this,” he added.
He said the APMC would not construct roads like the PWD and other departments having expertise in that field. “It will only construct small link roads and ropeways to transport apple and other produce. Ropeways are easy to construct and can be removed easily after the season,” he added.