THE RECENT series of reforms in the management and functioning of the wholesale agricultural markets in the state is all set to challenge the Congress-NCP stronghold at the helm. Direct election of directors to the mandis might soon make way as against the indirect manner in which the elections are held as of now.
A few months back, the state government had formed a special committee to study possible electoral reforms in wholesale markets. At present, directors of the mandis are elected by a close set of voters who normally remain unchanged. The three main group of voters involved in the process includes cooperative societies like primary agricultural cooperative societies (PACS)s, gram panchayats in the area of operation of the mandis and licensed trader/ commission agents/weighers (mapadis). The committee, which is headed by Sunil Pawar, the additional registrar of cooperative societies, was asked to examine whether the voters’ base could be expanded. In particular, the committee was asked to examine whether farmers can directly vote to elect directors on the bodies.
The committee, which has submitted its report recently, has suggested some radical changes which if accepted, will allow more democratic and direct participation of farmers in the process. A member of the committee said they examined the process from two possibilities- whether to draw up the voters’ list from farmers who sell their produce at the markets or to consider all legitimate land holders as voters for the process.
The first proposal, the member said, was discarded as it would involve logistics issues and the second proposal was accepted but with some modification. Only land holders in the talukas of operation of the mandis would be eligible to vote for the selection of directors. This would not only increase the voters base by 10 times but will also involve changes in the election process. At present, either the district collector or the deputy district registrar (DDR) holds the election but the committee has recommended that either the state election commission or a separate body be asked to conduct these election. The committee has also asked for special funds for the elections. Chairman and vice chairman of the APMCs would be directly elected from the voters as the presidents of the municipal councils were done earlier in the state.
This method of direct elections, a committee member said, will allow the BJP entry as they have little chances of breaking the stronghold of Congress-NCP over the PACSs or the traders. “It might take over 20 years for them to gain control over these groups. Direct election will, however, give them an edge as the party seems to have spread its footprint in the rural areas as is evident from the recently-conducted zilla parishad polls,” said the member.