With onion prices once again bringing tears to the eyes of the consumers, Food Minister K V Thomas had to come out on Tuesday and assert that “there’s no cause for panic’, as “prices are excepted to ease in another four to five weeks” time.
However, with Assembly elections in key states round the corner, the middle-class voter may not have the patience for the price cycle to come down on its own with next season’s yield.
No wonder then that the Food Minister asserted that his Ministry and its affiliated bodies are taking concerted steps to keep the onion prices within the reach of the retail consumer.
Talking to Express, the Minister said “Farmers of Maharashtra who are provided with cold storage facilities tend to allow the prices to go up.” While not denying that there’s been a shortfall in onion production this year, he said, “but it is only 8 lakh metric tonne less than last year - which is nothing really.”
The shortfall in production, however slight, combined with an increase in exports- 2 lakh metric tonne more than last year- have undoubtedly led to the current situation.
The government is “not contemplating ban” on export though, Thomas said.
A number of factors, like not depressing the international market for Indian onions entirely through a blanket ban, have to be kept in mind before taking such drastic decisions, he pointed out. Instead the “MEP (minimum export price has been enhanced” and that would automatically shrink export, he added.
The government, he said, also plans to increase supplies through import. The NAFED has made the initial moves, “Food Secretary has been holding meetings - almost every day.” But, the NAFED is yet to place orders with international suppliers. One of the reasons behind this is government’s reluctance to import onion from Pakistan as relations with the neighbour are far from rosy. It’s a decision that can have political ramifications. A few tonnes of import have been cleared from China. Meanwhile, tenders have been invited by major co-operatives and fresh arrival from other ports are also expected in the next few weeks.
Part of the food inflation, Thomas attributed to the increase of minimum support price of major farm produce. “The retail price cannot be less than the MSP,” he said, adding that traditionally during these months from July-September both onion consumption and availability goes down every year. By end of November and December, he said, the yield is such that onions are seen lying waste on the wayside and that’s another headache.
Also read:Onion prices soar during festival season