A Spotlight Feature
National distribution centre of fruits and vegetables
By Pramod Kumar
WHEN you are fast asleep in your cozy bed at night, thousands of people work overnight in Delhi’s Chaudhary Hira Singh Fruit and Vegetable Market, formerly known as Azadpur Mandi, to ensure that you get fresh vegetables and fruits in the morning. Despite odd weather one can see thousands of workers unloading agriculture produces that just arrived by trains and roads from far off places of the country. Farmers come from all parts of the country to sell their produce here. “It is my decades long experience that everyone who worked hard never slept hungry in this Mandi,” says Shri Mitheram Kriplani, president of Chamber of Azadpur Fruit and Vegetable Traders while talking to Organiser.
Keeping in view its growing significance, Azadpur Mandi was officially declared the Market of National Importance on January 7, 2004 by the state government. Now it has assumed the status of a national distribution centre for important fruits like apple, banana, orange, mango, etc. and vegetables like potato, onion, garlic, ginger, green chili, tomato, etc. In all 50 types of fruits and 68 types of vegetables are traded in the market everyday. Almost all the agricultural produces are transported from Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Assam, etc. The Limca Book of World Records also recognised this Mandi as the biggest distribution centre of fruits and vegetables in the world in the year 2001-02.
“The Mandi presents a perfect look of social harmony. The farmers and traders coming from all spheres of society deal freely with the wholesalers of all communities. By and large over 50,000 families depend upon this Mandi for their bread and butter,” says Shri Rajkumar Bhatia, a noted wholesaler and former member of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC).
Developed in 1976 by Delhi Development Authority (DDA), this fruit and vegetable market is spread on 76 acres of land. Divided into four blocks of concrete and metal-roofed structures, it houses 1,700 wholesalers, 5,000 semi wholesalers, and 2,357 commission agents. Before 1976, the market was unregulated and was mainly operating in the vicinity of Barfakhana, near Clock Tower. After relocation, a series of cold storages was created. Presently, there are 8 cold storages in Azadpur and about 50 are being operated at Kundali (Haryana) on Delhi border.
The Mandi is a midpoint in the farm-to-plate journey, as produces move from farms to depots, then a final stretch through street vendors, roadside stalls and, more recently modern retail chains such as Reliance Fresh, etc. To scores of people the Mandi is ‘a city within the city’.
In all, about one lakh people and around 2,500 trucks come to the Mandi everyday. It is the biggest fruit and vegetable market in Asia and perhaps ranks first in the world in terms of arrival. According to government statistics the arrival of fruits and vegetables was 42,79,104.7 tonne in 2006-07, which increased to 45,32,445.4 tonne in 2010-11. Since there is no space left for expansion here, efforts are on to decongest the Mandi. There is a proposal to develop another fruit and vegetable market with modern infrastructure at Tikri Khampur on the outskirts of Delhi near Singhu Border. An area of 73 acres of land is being developed there by DDA. In the process of decongestion, now nine new markets have also been developed in Ghazipur, Keshopur, Okhla, Mehrauli, Nangloi, Nasirpur, Najafgarh, Yamuna Pushta and Jheel.
To ensure regulation, transparency in dealings and representation of farmers and traders in policy making, the APMC was constituted in 2001. Presently, it has 13 members—three from traders who are elected, three farmers of Delhi, three farmers from other states and some government officials who all are nominated. Chairman and Vice Chairman are also nominated by the state government. Though elections for the new Committee have already been conducted in October last year, the Committee has not yet been constituted, which has adversely affected the developmental activities in the entire Mandi.
“The APMC is totally defunct today. Since all the three members elected from traders this time belong to the opposition party, the BJP, the State’s Congress government is deliberately delaying the constitution of the Committee,” alleges Shri Surendra Babu Buddhiraja, newly elected member of the APMC. Former president of Federation of Fruit and Vegetable Traders and veteran wholesaler Shri Amarnath Jaggi also feels that victory of BJP candidates could be one of the reasons behind the delay in constitution of the new APMC. Agitated over the plight of the traders and poor facilities in the Mandi, he even opined that the traders should stop paying market fee to the government if it cannot resolve their woes. “The newly elected members of the APMC should go to the court as it appears the government has become habitual of acting under the court's pressure. It constituted the Board in Ghazipur Mandi after it was grilled in the court recently,” Shri Jaggi added.
Commenting on the government apathy towards the Mandi, former member of Delhi Agricultural Marketing Board (DAMB), Shri Surendra Kohli asks if the government does not have time to constitute the APMC for the last 10 months, what is the use of conducting elections?
Shri Paras Ram, member of Vegetable Traders Association, is dissatisfied with the facilities available in the Mandi. “The traders pay one per cent marketing fee to the AMPC. The collection of this amount increases every year. It was Rs 3,855.732 lakh in the year 2006-07, which increased to Rs 6056.187 lakh last year. But despite having a fund of hundreds of crore the APMC has failed to improve the facilities here,” he said.
Since 2006, there are plans of computerisation of the Mandi in order to meet the international standards. But nothing concrete has been done on this front too. Even the website of the Mandi is very poorly maintained. Despite technological innovations, produce marketing has not changed much. Still largely labour intensive, scores of men toil day and night, unloading sacks of produce with little more than bare hands.
Though the demand for organic produces is growing all over the country, there is still no arrangement for marketing of such items in this largest vegetable market. “It is not possible till the nodal agencies of state governments certify the organic produces and the consumers are able to distinguish between the organic and non-organic produces. Moreover, the good agriculture practices should be implemented immediately. The government should emphasise on standardisation of products for marketing and should take initiatives for food processing units. Although some of the initiatives have been taken, still the real beneficiaries are miles away from these benefits,” adds Shri Rajkumar Bhatia.
A visit to Azadpur Mandi gives a clear picture of neglect. There is heavy waterlogging whenever it rains. There is mud everywhere. Garbage is not cleaned for days and roads are in a dilapidated condition. Particularly, the stretch running between A Block and the railway track is completely worn out. “Daily, over 5000 trucks and small commercial vehicles enter the market, in addition to other vehicles. With so much traffic pressure it is quite natural the roads wear out. They need to be repaired constantly. If this work is delayed the situation is bound to get bad,” said Shri Suresh Kumar, a wholesaler.
Fruits are imported and exported to many countries including the USA, Africa, Thailand, China, etc from this Mandi. “The disturbing trend is that China is going to dominate in apple production in coming years and its impact will be felt in Azadpur Mandi also,” cautions Shri Mitheram Kriplani.