The panel is planning to crack down on hoarders and enhance the availability of onions

Priced between Rs. 60 and Rs. 80 per kilogram in several parts of the country, onions are bringing tears to housewives. Concerned at the problem, the Committee of Secretaries is meeting here on Wednesday to take steps — including a crack down on hoarders — to ease the situation.

Onion produce in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka was damaged due to excessive rain, which also delayed their arrivals. Mandi dispatches from the onion-producing districts of Lasalgaon and Pimalgaon in Nasik, Maharashtra have been lower by 40 and 27 per cent between April and July this year on account of the inclement weather.

The officials, headed by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, will also look at measures to enhance availability of onions, possibly including a nod for duty free imports.

Thomas, Pawar meet

On Tuesday, Minister of State for Food and Consumer Affairs K.V. Thomas spoke to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on the issue.

The government is closely monitoring the situation before deciding on allowing duty free imports on government account.

Although there is a shortfall of about 8.56 lakh tonnes in the production of the bulb this year compared to last year, there is no immediate move to ban exports or set an export price to dissuade traders.

But there is a suspicion that onions are being hoarded by traders and even big farmers for speculation.

In 2012-13, India exported 18.23 lakh tonnes of onions compared to 15.53 lakh tonnes during 2011-12.

Normally, onion prices tend to rise between September and November as the stored onion stocks get depleted by August, September. Once the rabi stocks arrive the situation normalises.

Declining market arrivals

Compared to last year, this year market arrivals declined by up to 40 per cent during June and July due to creation of “artificial scarcity,” sources in the Food Ministry sources said. For instance, the modal price of the commodity in Lasalgaon on August 1 was Rs. 2401 per quintal. It shot up to Rs. 4300 per quintal on August 12.

The country has a stock of about 9 lakh tonnes of onions, which should help it tide over the situation till the next kharif crop arrives in the beginning of October. However, if prices continue to rise, we will have to enhance availability, Mr. Thomas told The Hindu. In 2011, the Centre had sold subsidised onions through its Nafed outlets.

Keywords: onion prices

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