Monday, January 30, 2023
HomeOpinionWant to help farmers, remove middlemen? Scrap the law governing agri markets

Want to help farmers, remove middlemen? Scrap the law governing agri markets

Model APMC laws suffer from the same economic problem as the old ones. We should repeal APMC laws and not replace them.

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Although India’s Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee legislation was enacted with the noble intention of increasing farmers’ income, it has had the opposite effect over the years. It has restrained farm income. The failure arises from the basic structure of the legislation, which creates the incentives for middlemen to collude against the farmer.


The Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) laws go back to the founding of the Republic in the 1950s. The government’s intent and justification behind setting up the APMCs, as seen in promotional videos from that era, was to protect farmers from commission agents – the middlemen. The idea was that these markets would be fair, more efficient, and offer better remuneration to the farmers. Since markets are a state subject under the Constitution, the states had to enact APMC laws. Most states have enacted and amended them from time to time.

The Act empowers the government to declare certain areas as market areas – the entire geographical area over which a market set up under the APMC law has a ‘monopoly’ on. This designated market is run by a committee of elected traders and farmers (from the area), with some representatives from the government. The committee then sets up a market yard with storage facilities where the trading of agricultural goods takes place. There may be sub-yards set up too, and these are covered by the same rules that govern the yards. All traders who buy agricultural goods are required to get licences from the market committee. To fund itself, the committee charges fees on all trade that takes place within the market area.

The original idea behind creation of APMC laws – to bring the traders under one roof for easy monitoring and prevent them from cheating the farmers – seems lost now. The law almost achieves precisely the opposite of its intended objective. To understand how the APMC ends up harming the farmers, let’s take a look at the law and the economics behind it.

Market Monopoly

While the APMC legislation sets up regulated markets, it criminalises setting up other competing markets, or buying agricultural produce from outside the market yard or sub-yard (except for personal consumption). Both Punjab’s Agriculture Produce Markets Act, 1961 (section 8), and West Bengal’s Act (sections 4 and 34) have these provisions.

Also read: India’s farm economy needs liberalisation, not periodic political charity

Such restrictions fly in the face of the argument that regulated markets are superior. If they provided better prices than other markets, farmers would naturally come to such markets. It would not require the law to other markets in a geographical area, which is arguably done to ensure that farmers are not cheated.

But by banning both unregulated and multiple regulated markets in an area, the legislation prevents competition, thereby affecting the farmers’ chances of landing a better price for their produce. In such a scenario, the price charged by the APMCs as market fees becomes a tax.

Some states have relaxed these provisions, allowing the traders to buy directly from the farmers without going to the APMC. However, even when the traders and farmers do not use any APMC infrastructure, they are required to pay the fees as long as the farmer’s land is within the market area as notified by the government. Section 12(1) of the Andhra Pradesh law is one such example. In fact, the law in this state makes it obligatory to pay fees for any transaction taking place in the entire market area and not just at the market.

Trader cartelisation

Creating a cartel is tough. Every member of a cartel has an incentive to break the rules of the cartel to make more profit for themselves. This is why the 14 OPEC members (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) rarely agree on production cuts and frequently violate them by producing more oil than their quota. In a normal market, if traders were making super-normal profits, it would attract other traders to join the business. However, we see many cartels coming up in the APMCs (regulated markets).

Also read: Draconian Essential Commodities Act needs to go if India wants to raise farm incomes

Traders come together to fix prices even when they are to be determined by auction. A report by the Competition Commission of India in 2012 notes: “For instance, a visit to Ahmednagar APMC revealed that there was collusion amongst traders. While bidding on certain lots was taking place, traders started with about Rs 300 per quintal and kept bidding higher prices until one trader quoted Rs 400 per quintal and another bid at Rs 405 per quintal. The commission agent stopped the auction and produce was shared between two wholesalers. In fact, about 60 per cent of farmers in Washi market reported that their sale was undertaken through secret bidding.”

This cartel formation is possible because the legislation (for example in Tamil Nadu) requires every trader, warehouse owner, processor or even somebody weighing agricultural produce to obtain a licence from the market committee. This committee, which is supposed to comprise elected farmers and traders from the area, is usually dominated by the trader lobby. This lobby has no interest in increasing the number of licences, which affects their profits. An example of this had played out in Bengal in 2008 when the trader lobby had revoked the licence of a large international chain in the wholesale business.

The model APMC law proposed by the central government in 2003 had suggested making the state governments, and not the market committees, the licensing authorities. While this may reduce the conflict of interest, it still burdens the buyers of agricultural produce with compliance costs. They would have to apply for licences, keep detailed records of purchases, pay market fees, and be open to prosecution under the APMC laws.

There are no regulatory or market failures in the buying of agricultural produce, which requires licensing. The licensing regime only discourages or reduces the supply of buyers in the market. Restaurants, caterers or large processors are discouraged and rely on licensed traders to act as middlemen. These traders in turn reduce the price paid to the farmer and increase the price to the end consumer, and keep the difference as profits. While regular trading provides a valuable service of getting buyers and sellers together, in the case of APMCs, the traders are merely benefiting from the legal position awarded to them under the legislation.

Also read: Farm income in India hasn’t been this bad in almost 20 years, and it may be too late for Modi to fix

Do not modernise, repeal

The government’s attempts at modernising APMCs ignore principal economic drivers in the APMCs. Any legislation which coerces farmers to sell in a specified area or reduces the supply of traders through licensing will lead to exploitation of farmers. Even if the APMCs laws start without such coercion, the creation of statutory APMC automatically creates a constituency of traders who then lobby the government to close other channels of selling.

Even the modernised ‘model APMCs’ of 2003 and 2017, which have been suggested by the government as part of its measures to reform the legislation and which it wants the states to enact, retain two provisions that give rise to cartelisation: trader licensing and market monopoly. Therefore, economics predicts that monopolistic behaviour by the market committees and cartel formation by the traders will ensue – and that is because the model APMC laws suffer from the same defects that the old laws do.

APMCs are not an Indian phenomenon, variations of this law (initially promoted by the World Bank) was implemented in many countries. However, over the years, informed by experience and economic thinking, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and others have repealed such laws. It is high time India abandoned this fundamentally flawed legal policy in all its forms.

Shubho Roy is a consultant at NIPFP

Ila Patnaik is a Professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy

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  1. Somebody here, in favour of the laws, had recommended Shekhar Gupta’s episode on how APMC removal in Bihar had helped the farmers there. He conveniently ignored the significant change in political leadership, the low base on which growth was indexed, and gave credit freely to APMC removal.
    It’s indeed the case or using data for support, and not illumination. Or, as Kipling would say, ‘..twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools’.
    Anyhow, hope somebody can help me understand this.
    Produce is perishable, most farmers are too small to store efficiently for long, end users will pay whatever charged ( it’s food, after all), middlemen ( most of whom are busy acquiring or could acquire easily retail stores too) have the choice to stock, and are driven by profit, as they must be.
    So, why would they not use this nice set up to buy cheap, sell high, and make profit?
    Understand only basics of economy, and this is a genuine curiosity. Hope somebody explains.

  2. Its fake middle men really work hard to get farmer a fair price because on the amount he gets commission if you people will remove all the middle men the corporate frims will start to buy and you will create monopoly and then farmer will have no option he has to sale his goods what that carporate firm fixed the price and the corporate frim will start abusing farmer

  3. All experts opine that Middlemen and traders are the root cause of all the farmers problems. Nobody explains how. Can the farmers sell their produce from house to house without a chain of Middlemen. All these experts too are Middlemen only. In Tamil Nadu farmers markets were made in cities. Ultimately it was the traders who were sitting there.

  4. Farmers have right they can seller their products, anywhere, anybody at their best price ,cutting all the hurdles, agents,brokers,cartels ,gooda couraput, people should be avoid ,to much of political interference should stop, jai hind, jay bharat, The world is watching,

    • Do you think the farmers leaving their farming would go market to market and sell their products…from morning till evening they would work in the lands then go in search of market? Are you aware of what you are writing or just to comment you had put these useless words?

  5. Single seller means monopoly. Single buyer means monopsony. In monopsony single buyer and large number of sellers This reduce the bargaining power of sellers.

  6. Good article on papers only, tell something about farmers conditions in bihar where act was repealed for more than decade. A new class of traders develop, which exploit farmers and sell in APMC mandis of punjab and haryana. Repealing will take away the market from the reach of small and marginal farmers

  7. State Government should end APMC monopoly and chess.. since farmers and traders affected due to this… in this corona affected conditions if we want to encourage agriculture, Chess and Rent must be removed… free for farmers only

  8. Farmers are best and good upto grow the product and at the time of sell it they sell it to the broker . It might be the reason where farmers are suffering loss .


  10. Congress can garner lot of its lost voter base by running a country wide agitation to REPEAL the APMC Act. BJP can hold on to their newly acquired majority vote by doing the same. Would be interesting which party is nation (loving) alistic:)

  11. Exactly. The whole thing of Regulated Markets is redundant as it is accedemicaly established to be retrograde. It is redundant.

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