New distancing norms at Asia’s biggest vegetable and fruits market during COVID-19 lockdown too stringent, unlikely to work – traders

Attempts by authorities in the Indian capital New Delhi to introduce social distancing norms at Asia’s biggest fruits and vegetable wholesale market in times of a global pandemic are unlikely to work and lead to a further drop in transaction volumes, Ritwik Sinha reports.

The Delhi state government has introduced a scheme that allows the massive odd or even numbered trading halls to open on odd or even days and has also limited the number of buyers who can get into a vast complex in its attempt to keep supplies going during a period of an extended national lockdown.

The norms, implemented on Monday, also restrict buying and sale of vegetable and fruits to specific hours.

“Under the odd-even rules, we will allow all the 22 sheds to operate according to their numbers. For instance, on an even date, even-numbered sheds such as 0, 2, 4, 6, 8 will be allowed to function.This will help us maintain social distancing in the market in view of the COVID-19 outbreak,” Adil Ahmad Khan, chairman of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC), Azadpur had told news agency PTI.

Traders, however said the rules were too stringent and would lead to a further drop in transaction volumes, creating supply problems for the India’s national capital region, which is home to more than 40 million people.

“This odd-even scheme and stringent norms on the entry of vehicles and purchasers in the mandi are fresh setbacks. If after lockdown, the business transaction had come down by 50 percent in terms of daily arrival in the market, new norms will result in further depletion in supply. It will even lead to 80 percent erosion in the transaction volume in the coming days vis-à-vis trading in regular times,” said Anil Malhotra, a committee member of Azadpur Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC).

Azadpur Mandi was the first wholesale market in the national capital to decide  adopting odd-even scheme to ensure social distancing standards in a market which normally has tens of thousands of people flocking the complex.

The state government has also limited the number of vehicles a trader can bring into the complex to one, which too has seen a significant drop in volumes.

“We are noticing a consistent drop in supplies from neighbouring states like Rajasthan,” a leading vegetable trader at the mandi told, adding that officials supervising the implementation of the new norms were also being difficult.

Supplies seen getting hit

Traders also said that allowing only 2,000 buyers during a trading session meant supplies for the vast city will be poor.

“How can 2,000 retail sellers take care of such a large market as Delhi and the National Capital Region?,” asked Rajinder Sharma, former chairman of Azadpur APMC.  

Sharma said limiting trading hours and introduction of other rules to maintain social distancing was not relevant to a  couple like the Azadpur mandi spread over 80 acres with separate areas available for fruits and vegetables.

“The entire mandi covers over 80 acres – 45 acre for vegetables and 31 for fruits. And they are different sections. You can easily accommodate and allow a controlled crowd in two different sections simultaneously and ensure longer trading hours for both the segments,” he pointed out.        

A senior official of an online retail firm, which procures a significant volume for its regular fruits & vegetable supply in the national capital region, also sounded worried with the change in operational norms at the expansive mandi to combat COVID-19. 

“We are keeping our fingers crossed. The supply from producers to wholesalers may decline in the coming days at the mandi and this may well spike the prices,” he said. 

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