Government officials have ruled out closure of grain and vegetable markets, which are high up in the list of essential services that are exempted from any lockdown or curfew, but traders said officials also need to ensure that trucks carrying agriculture produce are not held up at toll plazas and police pickets.
In Mumbai and Pune, traders have issued statements that they will shutter their shops on Wednesday, while Nashik merchants said they would do the same. In Delhi’s Azadpur market, supplies poured in normally, but purchase by retailers was down 60-80%, said Metharam Kriplani, president of Delhi’s Azadpur Chamber of Fruits and Vegetables Association. As a result, wholesale rates have fallen while retail prices are rising.
The Maharashtra government has ruled out the closure of any market and said it will even take the help of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to avoid overcrowding at Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs).
Anoop Kumar, principal secretary for agricultural marketing in Maharashtra, said, “It is not true that the APMCs will be closed in the state. We have not received any letters from any traders or their organisations.” He said that after the voluntary ‘Janata Curfew’ on Sunday, the Vashi market was closed, while the APMC in Pune was overcrowded. “The divisional commissioner of Pune has said he may take the help of the NDRF to avoid overcrowding. We have requested the police to not stop any vehicles carrying vegetables and fruit. Self-help groups and farmer producer companies have been requested to give vegetables directly to vendors.”
Mahinder Sanpal, a vegetable trader at Delhi’s Azadpur, said buyers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh had told him to stop supplies. “I have stopped further purchase,” he said.
While many people complained that retail prices had risen, traders said wholesale rates of onion and potato had fallen by 25%. Many traders are nervous. “We receive about 1,000 vehicles belonging to farmers and traders, and about 10,000 people at the market. To stop the spread of the coronavirus, and in the interest of everyone’s health, we have voluntarily decided to close the Vashi APMC market from March 25,” said Shankar Pingale, director of APMC-Vashi.
A former officer-bearer of Lasalgaon APMC said all traders in Nashik will shut markets from March 25 as labourers are not ready to work. Traders admitted that they cannot take such a decision officially, but said they will shut down because of holidays and labour issues.
In Delhi, many traders want to stay home. Rajinder Sharma, former chairman of Azadpur APMC, said, “We have more than 30 associations of traders in Azadpur market and more than half have decided that they will not function from Wednesday. Other associations are discussing the issue.” The organised sector has reported issues in transportation of vegetables. Pankaj Khandelwal, managing director of INI Farms, said, “Despite fruit and vegetables being in the exempt category, there is a massive disruption in the supply chain. Transporters are facing difficulties at toll plazas and police checkpoints.”
Khandelwal said transportation was a nightmare and that the inventory of perishable commodities was piling up.