Stung by the skyrocketing retail prices of onion in the country, the Centre on Thursday announced abolition of import duties and banned its exports for an indefinite period.

Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar, who is personally monitoring the situation, asked the State governments to take strong action against hoarders. He asked the Commerce Ministry to import onions to cool down prices.

The government directed its three trading companies — STC, PEC and MMTC — to scout for imports.

Meanwhile, onions continued to sell at Rs. 70-80 a kg.

“To counter the sudden and unexpected rise in the prices of onions, the Department of Revenue has brought down customs duty and countervailing duty to zero,” Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla told reporters here.

The government, which had earlier suspended exports till January 15, notified an indefinite ban on onion export.

Onion imports hitherto attracted a customs duty of 5 per cent, while countervailing duty was fixed at 4 per cent. Countervailing duty is levied to protect domestic producers. Abolition of import levies, Mr. Chawla said, would help in increasing supplies through imports.

Agriculture Secretary P.K. Basu expressed confidence that the retail prices would come down in 7 to 10 days with the expected arrival of fresh crops.

While, the wholesale prices at the country's largest trading centre in Nashik dropped by 42 per cent, the prices at the Azadpur Mandi in Delhi came down by 29 per cent. In the Laslgaon onion market yard in Nashik, the wholesale price went down to Rs. 3,702 per quintal on Thursday against Rs. 5,200 per quintal on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chandrasekhar asked Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar to speed up onion imports to augment domestic availability. The Cabinet Secretary is also understood to have asked the Railway Board to provide more rakes for expeditious movement of onions from producing regions to different parts of the country.Mr. Chandrasekhar will review the situation on Friday with the Secretaries of the Agriculture and Consumers Affairs Ministries.

Keywords: onion prices