Rebutting criticism that the short-lived ban imposed by the government on onion exports was not a "panic" decision after it was rolled back within two weeks on Tuesday, food minister K V Thomas today said it was a "precautionary" step aimed at protecting domestic consumers.
"Nothing panic, you should understand that there was a panic decision last December... But this time, we took the decision much in advance in September," Thomas told reporters on the sidelines of the General Assembly of the International Organisation for Standardisation here.
Thomas was referring to last year's bad experience when onion prices had touched Rs 80-85 a kg in major retail markets across the country, following which the government had banned exports of the commodity and imported large quantities from neigbouring Pakistan.
However, in the case of the latest ban, the decision was reviewed after massive farmer protests in the major growing states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka and was lifted on the basis of farmers' assurance that there would be no shortage of the kitchen staple in domestic markets, he added.
"But we should understand one thing, that ours is a farmers' country and the farmers should get a reasonable price for their produce," said Thomas, who attended the crucial Empowered Group of ministers (EGoM) of Food meeting yesterday, where the decision to lift the ban was taken.
"The government needs to balance the interest of consumers and farmers," he said.
Asked if permitting onion exports could trigger upward movement in onion prices again, the minister said, "We will regularly review the situation."
It has also been decided to fix the minimum export price (MEP) for onions at a high level of USD 475 a tonne to discourage exports.
Defending the decision to ban onion exports on September 9 in the wake of onion prices shooting up to Rs 25 a kg in retail markets, Thomas said it was taken in advance to prevent a repeat of the bad experience in December last year, when onion rates had soared to Rs 80-85 in the retail markets.
He said a similar decision was taken for milk as well.
The government had banned milk exports in December last year and imported milk powder in anticipation of a supply shortfall at home in March-April this year.