A month after the Uddhav Thackeray-led state government started functioning with a full-fledged cabinet, the work of undoing the various changes effected by the previous Devendra Fadnavis-led government has started. Needless to say, the cooperative sector has been the first to see the changes. The Indian Express explains the changes effected in the sector and the reasons behind it.
As with the elections of local self-government bodies, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government lost no time in undoing the changes in the election process effected by the previous government. The first of the change was suspension of the over 600 expert directors appointed in the 302 agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs). Within weeks of this, the sate cabinet also changed the way the directors of APMCs were elected. Instead of farmers directly electing the directors, the government went back to the pre-2014 way when members of gram panchayats as well as other cooperative bodies elected the directors.
Why were the changes brought about in the first place?
Maharashtra’s agricultural marketing mandates formation of an APMC within a notified area. APMC regulates the trade in agricultural produce by levying taxes and constructing infrastructure necessary for conducting smooth trade.
The board of directors also ensure fair realisation by farmers and that they are not duped.
Located in rural areas, prior to 2014, the board of directors was elected in an indirect manner within the notified area of markets. Instead of farmers, members of gram panchayats and cooperative societies like primary agricultural cooperative societies participated in the process.
Barring some pockets in Vidarbha and Marathwada, Congress and NCP had held sway over APMCs. Mainly because of the sway the parties held over the cooperative bodies, it helped them maintain their hold over these markets. The saffron surge was missing from these cooperative markets.
One of the first changes the Fadnavis government brought about was the appointment of expert directors. APMC law allows appointment of expert directors to these cooperative bodies to guide and help them in better functioning.
Such appointees are expected to be experts in their fields, either graduates in agricultural sciences or a practising farmer of eminence. However, when such appointments were made, the erstwhile directors of APMCs fiercely contested them and alleged they were made out of political compulsion.
Invariably, ruling BJP found it convenient to appoint their supporters to these positions. The decision was challenged in the Bombay High Court but before the verdict the state government overturned the decision.
But the bigger change that had rattled NCP and Congress was the decision of the BJP government to change the way elections to APMCs were held. Instead of indirect elections, the previous government allowed registered voters in the notified areas to directly vote for the directors. Given the inroads BJP had made in rural parts of the state, it was hoped direct elections would help them wrestle control of APMCs.
Opponents of direct election had pointed out how only 20-30 of APMCs had the financial capability to foot the bill for elections. A vast majority of the markets had given in writing about their inability to hold elections. In case of Pune, the election process is long overdue.
How will the present change play out in the coming days?
A host of steps to liberalise the working of agricultural markets have seen alternative markets open up in the state. However, given the assured payments and their long-standing hold, most farmers still prefer to bring in their produce to these markets. A necessary cog in the long and often complicated chain of agricultural marketing, the importance of APMCs will remain.
Given their importance, directorship of these markets is often a first step towards bigger things in politics. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, it may be remembered, made his electoral debut by contesting elections of Baramati APMC.
Even in the present House, MLAs like Dilip Bankar from Nashik have a background in these bodies.
Naturally, Congress and NCP wish to see that these bodies continue to remain with them so they can accommodate their supporters and leaders in them.
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