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Maharashtra government defers APMC elections, NCP sees red

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-09-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Mumbai: In a move that has ruffled the opposition Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Maharashtra government has virtually deferred elections to the powerful Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs) by at least by one-and-a-half years.

The government has also decided to extend the term of the boards of administrators appointed at some APMCs, including Mumbai and Pune, by one-and-a-half years.

Maharashtra minister for co-operation Subhash Deshmukh said in an interview that the state government would soon issue an ordinance to amend the Maharashtra Agriculture Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) Act to incorporate these changes.

Deshmukh said the decisions would apply to all 306 APMCs across the state. The minister, however, added that the elections have been “deferred and not cancelled”.

“The decision to defer elections to APMCs, wherever they are due in the next one-and-a-half years, has been taken to allow APMCs to make changes in their working to reflect the reforms government has initiated. One key reform is that the farmers have been given the right to elect the APMC board in their jurisdiction. All APMCs have to prepare the lists of voters to implement this reform and government is giving them the time to do this. Elections will take place once these changes are incorporated and new voters’ lists are ready,” Deshmukh explained.

The APMC boards are elected every five years and they comprise representatives of farmers, traders and commission agents.

In July, the Devendra Fadnavis government introduced in the legislature an amendment bill to give voting rights to farmers to elect 21-members of APMC boards. The bill was passed by the legislative assembly but is pending before the legislative council. The government issued an ordinance in August to implement this amendment. Earlier, only the members of gram panchayats (elected village councils) and credit co-operative societies were eligible to vote.

The state government has appointed boards of administrators to run a few APMCs, including the Mumbai, Pune, and Nagpur ones. These boards have also been given extension of one-and-a-half years over their original tenure of two years.

The APMCs in Maharashtra cater to a large constituency of farmers, traders of farm commodities, commission agents, and also transporters.

The Congress and NCP have consistently won the APMC elections. Even though the BJP-led government has initiated key reforms in the sector in the last three years, it has not been able to politically leverage these reforms. For instance, the BJP lost to the NCP in the Parali APMC poll in Marathwada in May and failed to win a single seat in the Panvel APMC in November.

A senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified, said the move to give farmers voting right was aimed at “rooting out the NCP from APMCs”.

“Whenever the elections are held, they will not be like the APMCs polls as we know them. They would be like mini-assembly polls with a large number of farmers voting and the NCP has a reason to be disturbed,” said the Congress politician.

Devidas Pingale, NCP politician and chairman of the Nashik APMC, which is one of the largest in the state with an annual turnover of Rs1,500 crore, said the BJP was trying to enter the APMC by “legislative and proxy means”.

“BJP has failed to make its mark in the APMC elections in entire Nashik district in the last three years. NCP dominates 80% of the APMCs in the state and the BJP is trying to dislodge us through legislative means. This government has taken a decision to appoint four independent administrators to each APMC even if the APMC is elected. All these four administrators are from BJP,” Pingale told Mint.

Deshmukh countered this claim, questioning if the NCP was against giving voting rights to farmers. “The APMCs are not meant for NCP’s representation and they have to reflect and protect farmers’ interests. These reforms are aimed at protecting the farmers’ interests. The BJP will fight elections whenever they are held,” Deshmukh said.

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