Under the blazing hot summer sun, mango farmers from Konkan, located 300 kilometres away, have landed in Pimpri-Chinchwad with dozens of the luscious yellow fruit. Local residents are arriving in droves to take their pick at the stalls, set up in the parking area of the Ramkrishna More Auditorium as part of the “mango festival.”
The farmers are selling their produce under the state government’s ambitious farmer-to-consumer plan. In July 2016, the Devendra Fadnavis-led government had freed the sale of vegetables and fruits from the ambit of the Maharashtra Agriculture Produce Marketing (Regulation) Act. The amendment allowed farmers to sell directly to consumers, thereby eliminating traders and their commissions, and helping farmers determine the price of their produce.
Though the state government is encouraging farmers to procure better returns for their produce, activists have said that the BJP-led Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) is doing exactly the opposite. The farmers are being charged Rs 1,000 per day for the ramshackle stalls set up at the dimly-lit parking lot. Farmers grumble that they have neither been provided fans nor proper drinking water facility. “In the afternoon, when the heat is at its peak, it becomes absolutely unbearable. And in the night, mosquitoes make life miserable in the stalls, where we have to keep constant vigil on the fruits,” said Vipul Gondare, a young farmer from Ganpatipule.
Another farmer, Ravindra Toraskar from Kankavli, said, “The stalls are too small and they have no facilities… and we are being asked to pay Rs 1,000 per day. If I sell mangoes worth Rs 2,000 in day, half of my earning is taken away by way of rent by the evening”. The farmers said if their rent is reduced, the benefits would be passed on to the buyers. “The price of mango is already low as the season is coming to an end. If we get a discount on the rent, we will certainly pass on the benefit to the consumers …,” said Sandeep Khadke of Ratnagiri, sharing a view echoed by others.
There are as many as 22 stalls at the parking lot. Consumers who arrive to take their pick are asked to park their vehicles outside the gates of the auditorium, another step that has drawn flak from the buyers.
When contacted, Sarang Kamtekar, general secretary of BJP, which rules the PCMC, said civic officials have told him that those selling the mangoes are not farmers, but “agents”. When this correspondent spoke to those selling mangoes at the parking area, they said they were farmers.
Kamtekar then said he would take up the matter with the PCMC commissioner. When queried on the issue, PCMC Commissioner Shravan Hardikar said he would look into it. When the issue was taken up with Additional Municipal Commissioner Tanaji Shinde, he said the PCMC has given the space on rent to a self-help group. “The self-help group has been given the space at a rent of Rs 10,000 for 10 days… we have no clue why they are charging Rs 1,000 per day,” he said.
Activist-turned-politician Maruti Bhapkar said he had called up Hardikar on Friday to highlight the plight of the farmers. “He promised to look into it, but he still has not done anything. This is the real face of the BJP rule. At the state level, they are refusing to waive farm loans, and here, at the local level, they are raking in mega bucks from poor farmers,” he said.
Bhapkar said he didn’t understand why a self-help group was being charged Rs 10,000 and why they, in turn, were charging the poor farmers so heavily. His view was shared by other activists and local residents. “When we need to do everything we can to support the farmers, the PCMC is busy making them pay through their nose. It shows how insensitive the civic body is,” said Anita Landge, who heads the Damini Bachat Gat.