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Anti-retail lobby has a new target

October 09, 2007 14:11 IST
The anti-retail and land acquisition bandwagon has a new target now. An assorted bunch of farmers, small traders and non-government organisations (NGOs) have trained their guns on a legislation that allows private companies to directly procure produce from farmers.

Termed the Model Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act, the legislation was drawn up by the central government a few years back.

The farm sector is administered by both the state and central government. Till date, an estimated 10 states, including Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, have amended their existing APMC legislations.

Explaining the reasons for building opposition to the APMC Act, Dharmendra Kumar Sharma, director of NGO India FDI Watch, said, "The Act is aimed at allowing private players such as Reliance to set up a direct supply chain - a Farm to Fork strategy. It will directly affect the livelihoods of lakhs of persons, including wholesalers, retailers, commission agents, 'mathadis' (mandi workers), transporters and other APMC staff."

"APMC markets have already seen a reduction in business over the last few months, ever since agriculture products have started directly entering Mumbai through private companies. This has propelled the mathadi workers' unions to take up this issue along with the traders, which by itself is a historic move," said Vinod Shetty, spokesperson, Vyapaar Rozgaar Suraksha Kriti Samiti, an organisation that is organising a massive rally in Mumbai on Wednesday.

All APMC mandis across Maharashtra will voluntarily remain closed on the day. Among their various demands is one to cancel the wholesale cash-and-carry permissions granted by the central government to German Metro AG and South Africa's Shoprite.

Against the backdrop of a possible mid-term election, the anti-APMC issue is expected to hit political centre stage. This is despite the fact that the adoption of the Model APMC Act is a state subject. "Politicians will have no choice but to side with us. It is a question of their survival," said Shetty.

Reliance Retail is trying to set up a large wholesale market at Navi Mumbai. But a company insider admitted that if its plans became a political target, it would delay the project.

Trade unions and anti-organised retail groups are slowly gaining the support of farmers. Bhartiya Kisan Union, led by Mahendra Singh Tikait, has already promised support to the cause.

"These corporates will initially promise higher rates to the farmers. But after that, they will create a monopoly and kill the farmer by paying less.

These companies only care for profit," said Rakesh Tikait, son of Mahendra Tikait. BKU is organising a rally in Lucknow on October 18, and will also protest against the model APMC Act, among other farmer-related issues.

"My father met the prime minister last month. In that meeting, he informed the PM that farmers in the Hindi-speaking belt would not sell their produce to companies like Reliance Retail," said Rakesh Tikait.

On the other side, retailers are claiming that the entire agitation is based on the fact that the APMC committee members do not want to lose out on their powerful positions.

One of the country's largest retailers said, "Every state committee collects as much as Rs 1,500-2,000 crore (Rs 15-20 billion) annually. These committees have become politcised and play a major role during elections. Why would they want to lose out on their power?"

Nayantara Rai in Delhi
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