‘If States had responded they would have tided over the crisis’

Not a single State had responded to the Centre’s offer to procure onions for them in anticipation of the price volatility during the lean period. The price of onion sky-rocketed to Rs. 80 per kg in the last fortnight, giving anxious moments to the Central and State governments especially as three crucial States go to polls within a few months.

Had the States taken the offer of NAFED (National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation) procuring onions for them at wholesale prices, they would have tided over the crisis during the shortage months of July and August when supplies were affected due to inclement weather in onion-growing regions and delays in transportation, authoritative sources in the Ministry of Agriculture said on Saturday.

To enhance supplies and contain prices, the NAFED has been asked to import onions. It may purchase from countries such as Iran, China and Pakistan, if the prices are suitable, sources said.

There was surprise in the government that even after two months of the offer, which was made through a letter to all States by NAFED Chairman, not a single State government came forward, “not even Delhi,” which was worst-hit as the movement of goods trucks was stopped through the city around August 15 for security reasons.

“The Department of Consumer Affairs has drawn the attention of the Ministry of Agriculture to the likely spike in onion prices in the coming months, especially during the period of October-December,” NAFED Chairman Sanjeev Chopra wrote to State governments on June 21.

Offering its “expertise” for procurement and storage of onions during the lean period, NAFED chief said it could store the bulb for the State governments in its cold storage complex at Nasik and “transported to the designated destinations in your State as per your government’s requirement.”

Treating the operation as a business proposal, NAFED sought “advance funds” from the States. It said the procurement would be at the prevailing market rates. At the time the wholesale rate of onion in Nasik markets was Rs.1,550 per quintal. Sources said that in a situation when there is volatility in onion prices, had the prices fallen from the rates at which the States had bought, they would have to face charges of financial irregularity.

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