The vegetable vendors’ rally at Margao earlier this week against the Margao Municipal Council’s policy of allotment of horticulture kiosks reflects their sense of insecurity following the government’s efforts to control the price of vegetables and fruits. Vegetable traders have been losing public sympathy in recent years after vegetable merchants persistently hiked up rates. Some even reportedly refrained from disposing off the unsold vegetables at lower prices, and thereby allowing them to rot, with the sole objective of maintaining a high price line.
There are numerous instances where traders in the vegetable business have increased their wealth manifold. A section of vegetable traders, much like fish traders, are intent on making a fast buck. During the just concluded Assembly Session, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had declared that he would start a government-run outlet to sell fish in an effort to curtail the exploitation of the average Goan’s staple food item. Old timers would remember the days when Goa’s Fisheries Department had a fleet of vessels which brought in a substantial catch, which was then sold at a Departmental stall before the rest was auctioned off. Prices were effectively under control in those days.
Government’s efforts at making fish available at reasonable prices are unlikely to be welcomed by those who make their money on the fishy side of the business, as it were. So, can we expect fish vendors to follow vegetable vendors out on to the streets arguing that their livelihood is at stake because the government has put up an outlet and raise a clamour for its closure?
The point is that horticulture kiosks were introduced by the government primarily to offer relief to the common man in the wake of price-fixing by the vegetable mafia. The kiosks are not meeting the full demand of the market, but their presence has a salutary effect on the price level. If the exploiter now feels cheated, it is simply poetic justice. Nobody should forget the manner in which the vegetable mafia held to ransom trucks carrying vegetables to Goa from Belgaum.
There is little doubt that despite the escalating costs of vegetables, it would be a fallacy to believe that farmers are the beneficiaries of the price rise. It is a fact that vegetable growers are, if anything, even more exploited by the trader as middleman who pays them a pittance and sells produce at inflated prices in markets. The interests of farmers and end-users, i.e. consumers, coincide. It is the traders who fatten themselves with the least amount of work and at the least risk ~ no crop failure, delivery expenses, et al to worry about for them.
If the government at this stage tries to reverse its horticulture kiosk policy it would only attract ridicule by falling into the trap of a well-organized vegetable traders’ lobby.
Even the demand by the vegetable vendors for subsidy to local growers and vendors is uncalled for. What is the basis for such a demand when there are several agricultural schemes for farmers? Or, is it that the vendors need the subsidy for sopo? With the advent of retail chain outlets in other parts of the country where mega traders purchase produce directly from farmers offering them better prices, and with progressive storage technology, the age-old system of hawking is on the way out. Leaders like Babu Azgaoncar ought to prepare vendors towards the oncoming shift.
Consumers cannot be allowed to be exploited simply because vendors find it “hard” to compete with Horticulture Department’s kiosks. Vendors ought to tap the organically grown local vegetable/fruit market which commands a premium instead of organizing anti-people protests ~there is a large vacuum in this sector which needs to be filled.