The UPA government struggled to tame high onions prices, which have quadrupled from year ago to `90-`100 a kg, as farm minister Sharad Pawar on Wednesday asked all chief ministers to invoke the Essential Commodities Act, an anti-hoarding legislation that allows the state to control the sale and supply of certain food and non-food items, while the commerce ministry eased rules to quicken imports.
Pawar in Bangalore said fresh onions were unlikely to reach markets immediately and the price spiral could last up to three weeks. “We have to import as soon as possible. Fortunately, there is ample onion available in China and Egypt and other neighbouring countries,” Pawar said. A key interministerial meet is slated for Thursday.
Exhorting traders in Delhi not to make a profit from selling onions, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit said she would meet Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and food minister KV Thomas on Thursday to seek their intervention in bringing down price of the bulb.
Heavy rains, a cyclone that flooded key interstate highways and a longer-than-normal monsoon have slowed harvesting of India’s main summer onion crop and held up delivery of stored produce, which usually takes care of demand at this time of the year when stocks bottom out.
Pawar and commerce minister Anand Sharma have blamed hoarders for worsening the shortage, saying states would have to use powers under the emergency law to get tough on blackmarketeers. On Wednesday, very little onion, a staple of most India meals, poured into Lasalgoan, Asia’s biggest wholesale market for the bulb, which sets price benchmarks around the country.
Nafed, the government’s main food-trading arm, has been asked to scour the international markets. On Wednesday, NAFED issued tenders for import of onions from Pakistan, Iran, China and Egypt.
Food inflation, driven by onions, rose 18% in September from a year ago, spooking household budgets. To speed imports, the government has waived off a key crop-hygiene rule until November 30. Importers would not be penalized if they imported non-fumigated onion stocks, but they would have to sterilise the stocks once they land.