Onion prices have doubled and even tripled in many cities over the past few weeks, going for anything from Rs 60 to Rs 100 a kilogram, much to the dismay of consumers. The price of onions has become symbolic. Onion is an important part of the common man’s food. The increased prices have eaten into the budget of consumers and many have forsworn the beloved bulb for now. With onion prices skyrocketing, the usual blame game among political parties has begun. The rise in the onion prices has once again led to mud-slinging among political parties. Onions in India have been witnessing an upswing in their prices on a regular basis for quite a long time. It is welcome decision by our PM Modi government to swing into action by banning the export of onions and imposing stock limits on onion traders to prevent hoarding to artificially drive prices up. This is for the first time in the last 50 years the prices have gone up because of the irregular rains, which have destroyed the onion crops. Prices of essential commodities have generally been on the rise, thanks to a combination of factors, including repeated hikes in fuel prices and flood damage to crops.
Onions have hogged the headlines as a vegetable without substitute in Indian cuisines but consumers have been hit just as hard by the steady rise in the prices of all food items. Every time onion price hikes revisit the country, economists and policymakers debate as to what triggers the periodic upswing. In this scenario, the government needs to come up with something more than quick-fix solutions. Although inflation is good sign for rising economy but certain items should be kept out of this like common food items which is part of the main recipe of any meals. It is observed that the Jains and some Brahmins apt to avoid it. Though onion consumption varies in different parts of the country, it is commonly used for cooking, indeed to enhance the taste of an item. Roti with onions is the fasten food of the poor in the absence of green vegetables. The rise in onion prices comes at a turbulent time for the economy, which has slowed down. The continuous price rise has eaten largely into every body’s income except that of the rich. Instead of letting food grains rot in godowns, it must expand and strengthen the public distribution system as a way of providing food security for the poorer sections. It is also seen that Onion production in India is carried out mostly by small and marginal farmers and hence fiscally incapable of manipulating market supplies.
Inflation fight needs not just anti-hoarding measures, but reducing middleman control. Onion is an important part of the common man’s food. The government needs to deal with the hoarders firmly. Farmers are frustrated over the unpredictability of prices. Last year, due to a glut in production, onion prices dropped to one rupee a kilogram in some places, prompting some farmers to burn their crops in protest. If government data on onion production from the past five years is analysed, it can be seen that onion production in 2019 nearly halved in comparison to 2018. The uncontrolled price of onions is frustrating. Though its consumption varies in different parts of the country, it is commonly used for cooking, indeed to enhance the taste of an item. It is the common man who is forced to bear the brunt of the price rise. Indeed, a day may come when onions become as costly as gold jewellery. The common man is wondering whether the onion shortage is the result of excessive rain or whether it is a conspiracy of corrupt politicians and unscrupulous traders. There needs to be a consumer resistance. The price of onions might drop if people don’t buy it for some time. The government needs to stabilise prices. They should make storage facilities and set a minimum price for farmers, Unless the government puts an end to the export of foodstuff such as rice, dal, sugar and vegetables, Indians will continue to pay a high price for their daily meal.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)