After thousands of wholesale as well as retail buyers thronged agriculture produce markets on Tuesday morning in violation of the lockdown, the state government stepped in to attempt to dissuade trader associations and agricultural produce marketing committee (APMC) leaders from going ahead with their proposed market closure from Wednesday.
While a marathon meeting between APMC directors, workers’ unions and others failed to yield a final decision on whether the Vashi APMC market, the trade hub for much of the financial capital’s supply of vegetables and fruits, would continue to function during the lockdown, top officials insisted that the government will ensure a seamless supply of farm produce to major cities.
A panic-buying rush was witnessed on Tuesday morning at APMC markets including those in Nashik, Pune and Ahmednagar, following traders’ calls to close the markets from Wednesday. Following Sunday’s Janata curfew, trader associations in Mumbai and Pune had declared that as market yards see large crowds, operations would be suspended to protect traders and workers following Wednesday’s Gudi Padwa holiday.
On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Principal Secretary Anoop Kumar held talks with trader associations and the leaders of worker unions representing the head-loader labourers at the markets. Both groups expressed doubts over safety levels for their members inside the crowded, sometimes unhygienic, market yards.
“With a view to curb the crowds of panic-buyers and the rumours regarding closures, measures were discussed at a meeting at the chief minister’s residence today. The deputy chief minister has also intervened and held talks with the trader associations,” Anoop Kumar told The Indian Express.
But Shankar Pingle, chairperson of the Vashi APMC, said further meetings with various groups, including transporters, municipality, police and workers, would take place on Wednesday and Thursday before a final decision is taken on whether and how to operate the APMC market in the coming days. “In any case, enough stocks were picked up yesterday and today. So, there will be no shortages in the city for a couple of days. Tomorrow being a festival day, the market is anyway closed. We will continue to hold discussions in coming days,” he added.
The state government has promised additional protective measures at all APMC market yards, including daily overnight sanitisation and cleaning, availability of hand sanitisers and non-contact digital thermometers at the gates, ensuring that everybody who enters is checked and uses the hand sanitiser, and also clear signages for all vehicles carrying produce to and from these markets to ensure smooth movement. Officials said they hope the trader associations’ call for closures will be reconsidered.
“But we are readying Plan B as well. I can assure the people that there will be seamless supply of essential goods, including vegetables and fruits, during the lockdown period,” Kumar said. He refused to elaborate on what the alternative arrangements would be, in case trader associations and APMC directors are recalcitrant.
Unionist Narendra Patil, who represented the workers at Tuesday’s meeting, said various groups’ concerns need to be resolved before a decision can be taken to keep the APMC market operational. “Whether it is the transporters or workers or traders, everybody has concerns regarding how to keep the APMC market and everybody inside it safe. The market will stay closed on Thursday, but during Thursday a final decision will be possible.”
For farmers, the fear is of perishable produce not making it to the markets in time. Sanjay Sathe of Naitale village in Nashik has 150 to 175 quintals of grapes on his farm. “I need to sell that right away, though my onions can wait for some weeks because it has shelf life. Last week, before all the closures began, we were getting Rs 40 and Rs 50 per kg for grapes — now nobody is able to sell because traders are not clear whether the markets are running…,” he said.
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