Vegetables rot away while wholesalers wait for customers at Azadpur Mandi

- February 28, 2024
| By : Kushan Niyogi |

Easing of restrictions at Tikri and Singhu borders helped address some of the woes of Delhi’s wholesale traders but lack of consumers remains a major concern

MORE WORRIED: Sellers of perishable vegetables are more worried than sellers of potatoes, onions and garlic

Even though border restrictions around Delhi at Tikri and Singhu have been eased by the Delhi Police, with partial removal of barricades in lieu of a lull in farmers’ protest till February 29, lack of consumers in Azadpur Mandi, Asia’s largest fruits and vegetables market, still remains a concern. 

Initially, the restrictions had severely affected many wholesaler traders but thanks to the new directive, the situation has become a tad easier for the wholesalers to function. 

“The removal of barricades has helped us in a way. Our trucks are still a bit delayed but it is getting better. However, we are still recovering from our losses,” said Jimmy Khailani, the President of the Shimla Apple Marketing Association (SAMA).

To the naked eye, the crowd at the wholesale market, also known as sabzi mandi, remains higher than ever with its teeming acres jampacked with vendors and sellers of all kinds, arriving from each end of the national capital. 

However, the image undergoes a massive change as one arrives in the later hours only to find that the sellers are still left with most of their produce, waiting patiently for a consumer. 

“There is barely anyone coming here anymore,” said Chhatrapati Chauhan, a vegetable retailer, as he sat beside one of the many trucks which were waiting to load the surplus vegetables. He is one of the many who buy their daily dose of fresh produce from the mandi itself in the hope of selling it to prospective consumers who visit the market. 

FEW TAKERS: Even though the Azadpur Mandi remains crowded, there are very few consumers

“Almost everything is fine. There has not been much problem with us getting vegetables from the other shops. We are getting things at normal rates but prices of bhindi (ladyfinger) and karela (bitter gourd) have skyrocketed. There is no one to sell them to,” he said. 

Presently, bitter gourd is selling at a maximum rate of Rs 50 for a kilogram, while ladyfinger is selling at Rs 55. However, the 70-year-old seller claimed that they had to buy the former at a rate of Rs 60 for a kilogram, while the latter was being sold at Rs 80. 

“Delhi is at the centre for consumers in Uttar Pradesh and other places like Haryana and even Rajasthan. Normally, they made up my primary customers but now that the borders are sealed, nobody is visiting anymore,” Khailani said. 

The SAMA chief primarily trades in Kinnaur apples, and Kinnow and Malta varieties of oranges, mostly sourced from Shimla. He said that owing to the lack of a direct route to borders, trucks which used to charge Rs 15 initially, were now charging Rs 25 per carton. 

“A single truck contains around 1,300 boxes. I am suffering a loss of Rs 25,000 at the very least on one transport, without including toll taxes,” he said. 

Presently, kinnows and maltas have been priced at Rs 350 and Rs 400 per kg for a 10 kg box, respectively, according to the APMC rate chart. However, according to the wholesaler, he was having to sell them at a 20 per cent discount to finish his stock. 

According to Ashok Sharma, an onion wholesaler, the decrease in buyers is causing a gradual decrease in the selling price, leading to losses. 

“We do not get many buyers anymore. Most of our buyers were coming from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana where most of our wares would be sold to, but now we have a surplus of material with nobody to sell to,” he said. 

There has, however, not been any change in the price of essentials like onion and garlic since they last much longer. 

Ram Baran, the President of the Potato and Onion Merchants’ Association, said, “The produce doesn’t go stale, so there has been no effect as such.” 

Mahender Sharma, a wholesaler of mostly leafy vegetables, including spinach, stressed on how transportation costs had increased due to the government’s decision to seal borders. 

“For example, if we’d sell cartons of a vegetable at Rs 15 a box earlier, we are selling it now for Rs 12 per box. Presently, I am losing out on around Rs 20,000 on a single truck’s transportation, and losing out on time as well. All the trucks now take a diverted route to go around the border, with us losing out on almost three hours,” he said.

Mahender added that the lack of customers had also led them to start selling perishable vegetables at discounts with the aim of finishing their stocks. 

“What used to sell at Rs 10 per kg is now being sold at Rs 7 per kg, otherwise it will go stale,” he expressed. 

However, it is the seasonal fruit sellers who are suffering the most. 

Mukesh Kumar, a farmer who harvests and sells chikoo at the mandi, narrated how footfall has decreased significantly over the past couple of days. 

“It barely feels like a Friday market. I have not sold any of the boxes and I still have most of them intact, untouched,” he said. 

His boxes of chikoo, all marked with a 10 kg sticker, were now being sold at a mere Rs 200, whereas the maximum price according to the APMC is supposed to be Rs 350 and the minimum price at Rs 250. 

Worse days may still be ahead as Mohan Lal Saini, the Deputy Secretary of APMC Azadpur, foresees.

“It’s too early to say anything but some early indications suggest a major problem in the mandi if it (border blockade) stays for longer,” he warned. 

Presently, the Delhi Police has opened up the service lanes along National Highway (NH) 44 for free traffic movement at the Singhu Border. 

On February 28, Delhi Traffic Police used social media platform X (formerly Twitter) to advise commuters to use an alternate route from Piao Maniyari, Saboli, Safiyabad, Singhu School Toll and Zero Palla toll for their journey.