his year the lockdown has made it all costlier than ever, especially Potato and tomato costs, form demonetization to Lockdown vegetable prices always fluctuated. Above all, this is monsoon time and labor crunch, the markets are almost scanty having limited options. But for this, no government is to be blamed because all this is a circumstantial happening.
In 2013, when UPA was in the ruling government, the economy faced one of its worst crises in a decade and now the same crises in 2015 too when BJP is in power. While that is worrying about the political and economic fraternity, what is worrying ordinary Indians is the price of onions. People here eat their way through 15 million tons of onions a year. Almost every dish uses it, whether cooked in a curry or eaten raw as an accompaniment to a meal. The onion has proven as political game-changer time and again.
When UPA was in power, one member of the BJP, Vijay Jolly, gave away bags of onions instead of sweets for the Hindu festival of Rakhi. Many BJP leaders protested in front of then the PM Manmohan Singh’s doors. There were a huge uproar and instability by BJP. Now when they are in power, they are running out of the explanation. Onion prices have been known to swing elections before. In 1998, the then-ruling BJP suffered heavy losses in Delhi state elections, a result widely blamed on high onion prices.
The worried Delhi state government has started special counters across the city, to sell subsidized onions. But security guards have been deployed here too, to control angry crowds. A month ago, one kilogram of onions would have cost about 20 rupees (20-30 percent). Since then, the price has gone up nearly five-fold, costing up to 80 rupees and stinging everyone in India. The reason for the price spike is that stocks are low, after drought-hit crops and fewer rains.
Onions are considered an indispensable ingredient of most Indian cooking, providing the pungent foundation for a thousand different curries and other dishes. Onion prices have been an important political issue: they were regarded as the decisive factor in the 1998 state elections in Delhi and Rajasthan, and were responsible for bringing down the central government in 1980. India is the second-largest onion producer in the world, after China. A gap in coordination between the demand and the supply-management chain exacerbates the problem. Every couple of years we will be kicking out governments for rising onion prices because till the mismatch continues such crises will recur. New Delhi is now readying to import onions from countries like Pakistan and China, in order to meet the country’s insatiable demand. But it’s only a stopgap solution. Until infrastructure, distribution and technology improve, and wastage is reduced, governments may find their fates depend on this pungent bulb and Indian shoppers will have plenty to cry about.
Forty-five percent of the onion produce in India comes from the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. In November 2010, unseasonal and excessive rainfall in onion-producing regions such as Nashik in Maharashtra delayed the arrival of onions in markets. In December, when fresh crop usually begins to arrive, onion shipments were reduced from 2000-3000 tons a day to 700-800 tons a day in New Delhi markets, raising the price of onion from Rs 35 to Rs 88 per kg in the period of one week.
Prices of onion in the capital continue to remain at an eye-watering Rs 70-80 per kg, but it’s not the shortage of supply that’s pushing up prices so dramatically. Supply of onions in Delhi mandis has in fact increased significantly in the past 4-5 days but it has not brought down prices, indicating how traders are exploiting the crisis to make a quick buck. With the corms in short supply and prices soaring high in the domestic market, the vegetable dealers were importing onions, the most versatile veggie staple in the kitchen, from Afghanistan even as Pakistan government has imposed a ban on the export of onions since home prices of onions have already peaked to Rs 3500 for one hundred kilograms in the wholesale market. Vegetable dealers were getting only six to eight truckloads of Afghan onions to meet the local demand but the quality of Afghan onion is very poor. In Amritsar wholesale vegetable market Afghan onion was sold for Rs 15 to Rs 25 a kilogram and was largely purchased by hotel, dhaba, and restaurant owners whereas Indian onion was still in demand for domestic use. In retail, Indian onion was being sold for Rs 45 to Rs 55 per kilogram but the sales have declined in past one week. Onion has always brought tears to government, this time Potato and tomato too joined in the group.
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