PUNE: Supply of fruit and vegetables will start falling sharply in a day because transportation hurdles and labour scarcity in the wake of the COVID-19 scare have derailed operations, prompting many traders to stop operations from Wednesday although the mandis may remain formally open under government pressure.
Traders say the current situation will devastate farmers as their produce will start rotting, while urban consumers will face sky-high prices unless the authorities take urgent steps.
Traders said apart from the need to keep away from unhygienic and congested conditions in Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMC), or mandis, they were already facing a disruption in trade as trucks are unable to move in the lockdown. “Most of the fruit trading at Azadpur mandi has stopped as farmers are facing difficulties in sending their produce, while the onward dispatches too have become difficult,” said Rajkumar Bhatia, general secretary at Chamber of Azadpur Fruit and Vegetable Associations.
Sanjay Bhagat, secretary of an association of vegetable dealers at Azadpur, said arrival of vegetables will halve on Wednesday and fall up to 80% in the following days. “This will result in farmers crying for rotting vegetable and consumers paying through their nose to get vegetables,” said Bhagat.
Rajinder Sharma, former chairman of Azadpur APMC, said police beat up customers who came to the market on Tuesday. “If customers are not allowed, we will have to reduce buying from growing areas. We want government to issue passes to buyers who want to come to APMC,” he said.
Transportation is a huge bottleneck, said Nikhil Khandelwal, joint secretary at Akola Chamber of Industries. “One truck of pulses from Akola was sent back from Madhya Pradesh border, another on way to Bangalore came back and a few are stuck at the border of Kolkata, with the drivers running out of money to sustain,” he said.
Authorities are trying to persuade traders to work. In Maharashtra, principal secretary (marketing) Anoop Kumar said all APMCs will remain open and that traders have assured cooperation. “We will help them with all the support that is required. For smoother transport, instructions have been given to the police department and the trucks will also get stickers that they are carrying essential commodities,” he said. But vegetable traders from Mumbai, Pune and many other markets in the state—a major supplier of vegetables including onion and tomato—are determined to stop operations.
Policemen say it is impossible to determine if a person or an empty commercial vehicle is engaged in trade of essential commodities. Further, many villages are not allowing people to go to towns to work, fearing they would bring back the feared coronavirus.
Arjun Jadhav from Lasalgaon APMC could not package onions as government functionary stopped 11labourers from their village 30 km away. Pulses processor Nitin Kalantry from Latur, who used to dispatch 20 trucks of pulses to the metro cities, has not been able to find a transporter since Sunday. Vilas Bhujbal at the Pune APMC categorically said traders at the mandi will not operate from Wednesday as they are afraid of contacting Covid-19.