To boost sales, Centre asks states to suspend farm law
The Centre has recommended that states suspend certain provisions of their respective Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) Acts for three months to allow farmers to sell their harvest from multiple locations and to any buyer, Union farm minister Narendra Singh Tomar said on Friday. The move is aimed at encouraging social distancing and also ending farmer distress during the ongoing lockdown to fight the coronavirus disease, with disrupted supply chains forcing many producers to destroy their harvests.
The APMC Act regulates buying and selling of farm produce in about 5000 mandis or markets across the country. The Act empowers states to notify markets to cater to a specific area and farmers can sell in their designated markets only.
“Farmers should be able to sell to any buyer. Otherwise, all farmers of an area will converge in a single market, which will obstruct the principle of social distancing,” Tomar said in a video press conference.
“Therefore, states have been requested to sidestep this Act for three months.”
Tomar said procurement of wheat should start on April 15. The Centre has also asked states to start procuring 25% of pulses and oilseeds under the Centre’s price support scheme. On April 9, the agriculture ministry issued orders, invoking the market intervention scheme, which will allow the Centre to compensate horticulture farmers for a dip in wholesale prices and damages to harvested fruits.
A nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease has impacted farmers as labour shortages and lack of buyers have thrown farm operations into disarray. This has also upended the farm-to-fork supply chain, as India fights the Covid-19 pandemic.
Farmers in many states have been forced to dump perishable harvest due to lack of buyers, which has also depressed farmgate prices. Most farmers in northern and central India are in the middle of harvesting the biggest winter staple, wheat.
“We can’t deny that farmers would have suffered losses, especially in perishable commodities. States are on alert. They have to do the assessment of such losses. If they want Centre’s help to compensate, we have a laid-down process and we will look into it with full compassion,” Tomar said.
The minister added that if states grant exemptions to certain aspects of the APMC Act, then finding buyers should not be a problem.
The Centre has therefore allowed large farmer producer organisations, which are rural agricultural businesses, large buyers, cooperatives and individual traders to buy farm produce, sidestepping the APMC regulations.
The government has kept over 300,000 trucks ready to ferry harvests under the aegis of the national agriculture markets, an online trading platform, that has been updated to meet the needs of farmers during the lockdown.
The farm sector, which employs nearly half the population, has been roiled by the lockdown. Arrivals (of farm commodities) in APMC markets have plunged sharply, down almost 60% in some markets from a month ago.
Land transportation costs have risen sharply, as truckers struggle to cross interstate boundaries, despite exemptions from the lockdown. Restrictions and quarantine measures have resulted in crippling labour shortages, affecting loading, unloading and sorting of food commodities.