A day after Gujarat government issued an order to reopen all APMCs dealing with food-grains that closed due to fear of Corona Virus infections, it took an U-turn on the issue on Thursday and directed them to remain closed till April 14. This after an order to open the APMCs from April 3, which was revoked within hours.
In a directive issued on Thursday by Director of Agriculture Marketing and Rural Finance YA Baloch stated, the step to allow the APMCs to remain closed has been taken because “financial year ending, lack of labourers and availability of only few traders for the auction process.”
“The APMCs have held discussions with traders and farmers and decided to close down the food-grain markets till April 2, 2020,” stated the directive. However later in the day on Thursday, the core committee constituted by the state government to monitor the Corona virus situation decided to extend the closure of all APMCs dealing with food-grains to April 14, official sources said. There are in all 200 APMCs.
An official from Sanand APMC confirmed of having received the fresh government order to remain shut. When asked if the APMCs made a representation before the government in this regard, the official said the traders who were facing a shortage of labourers due to the present exodus had represented their case before the state government.
When asked about the old order issued on Wednesday where the government asked all APMCs dealing with food-grains to remain open, Manish Bharadwaj, secretary, agriculture department said, “We are focusing on the continous supply of vegetables and fruits — which is of top most priority — and so we have asked all the 75 APMCs dealing with fruits and vegetables to compulsorily remain open. These APMCs cannot suspend their operations. This is necessary to maintain the supply chain up to the retail market. Those APMCs dealing with food-grains, which had taken a decision to close down own their own accord, that we are not disturbing.”
Ashwini Kumar, secretary to the chief minister while addressing mediapersons on Wednesday had said that all APMCs have been directed to remain functional. Later the same day, the government issued a notification asking the APMCs to reopen to prevent any shortage of “food-grains, pulses and oil seeds” during the lock down period. The government also asked the APMCs to ensure social distancing and prevent crowds from gathering when the auction process involving the farmers, traders and APMC staff is underway.
In Saurashtra, major APMCs like Rajkot and Gondal said they were against the government instructions to resume their operations. “We are entering the last week of March and traders need time to settle accounts for the financial year. Plus, they said they would be unable to purchase any commodity due to restrictions on transportation. Therefore, we told the government, it was not possible to resume operations now,” Devraj Sakhiya, chairman of Rajkot APMC said.
Sakhiya, who is also president of BJP’s Rajkot district unit said that he also talked to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on phone on Wednesday evening and convinced the latter to reconsider the order issue to APMC to resume operations. “The CM said his only worry was that there should not be short-supply of food-grains. I assured him that wholesalers functioning out of our old yard have enough stock and that godowns of trades on our new yard are also full. If situation warrants, we shall open the yard for two days and farmers can supply foodgrain enough to meet market demand for a month,” said the chairman.
Gondal APMC chairman Gopal Shingala also said that he too had requested the government to reconsider the decision. “Traders told us that labourers have left and therefore even if they want to purchase commodities, there is no one on the yard to do unloading, weighing, loading etc. Secondly, once we announce that yard is open, farmers will rush with their wheat, gram etc, this being the peak marketing season. In big yards like ours, 10,000 people can gather and controlling them may not be possible even though there is government order prohibiting assembly of four or more people,” he said.
Sakhiya said that since commodities have to be sold off through open auction, gathering of more than four persons is inevitable if the APMC was to resume operations.
On March 22, The Indian Express had reported that a number of APMCs including those in Sanand, Ahmedabad, Mahuva, Jasdan, Dhanera, Upleta, Dhoraji, Gondal, Mehsana, Rajkot and Kodinar had shut down operations due to fear of Corona Virus infections. Officials of Sanand APMC had said that they had received verbal instructions from the state government officials to shut down.
Farmer bodies have been against this decision of APMCs to shut down operations as this is a peak season where farmers harvest the Rabi crop and bring it to the APMCs to be auctioned. APMCs like Unjha in North Gujarat had shut down as most of their labourers belonged to Rajasthan and there was a fear of spread of virus infection.
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