Barely a week after portfolios were distributed among 43 ministers of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, leaders of the Congress and NCP have renewed efforts to regain their hold over cooperative bodies in the state. Minister for Cooperation, Balasaheb Patil, on Tuesday gave orders to roll back the decision of the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis-led government to appoint technical directors in the agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs).
Meanwhile, Dilip Mohite Patil, NCP MLA from Khed constituency in Pune and the chairman of Maharashtra State Federation of Market Committees, has demanded scrapping of the present method of electing directors and chairmen of these wholesale markets and reverting to the old method of indirect elections.
Barring the Vidarbha region, wholesale markets in Maharashtra have traditionally been controlled by the Congress and NCP. These cooperative bodies had withstood the winning streak of the BJP despite the party making serious headway in other local governance bodies such as zilla parishads and panchayat committees.
One of the first decisions which had helped the erstwhile BJP government gain a foothold in these bodies was the appointment of ‘technical directors’. The Maharashtra APMC Act has provisions for appointing such directors, who are supposed to lend their expertise in running these markets.
The then government had used this provision to appoint directors in these markets, but Mohite Patil has alleged that the appointments were based on political allegiance.”The people appointed lacked technical knowledge and instead of agriculture experts or market experts, people with little or no knowledge were appointed,” he said. More than 600 directors were appointed in the 307 market committees.
These appointments had allowed the BJP ensure its presence in the rural markets. In many cases, technical directors had made written complaints about the working of the markets, which, in some cases, had led to the dismissal of the board of directors in these markets.
This had prompted the Maharashtra State Federation of Market Committees to move the Bombay High Court to challenge this decision, and the judgment is expected on January 14. “…The minister has now decided to roll back the decision, which is a welcome move,” said Mohite Patil.
In another major reform, the BJP-led government had introduced direct elections instead of indirect elections to the board of directors. Earlier, directors were elected by members of gram panchayats and various primary agricultural credit societies. Given the limited electorate, it was easy to ensure control of the markets remained with select parties. But the BJP government had introduced direct elections.
Villages within the notified areas of the markets constituted the electorate base of the markets. The larger electorate bases made it more difficult for only a couple of parties to retain control.
Mohite Patil, however, said the larger electorate bases had made the elections non-viable for many markets, which didn’t have the financial power to hold elections. “Barring 80-90 markets, the other markets do not have the budget to finance the election process. We have urged the minister to roll back this method,” he said.