Farmers were badly hit by crash in wholesale prices

The Centre has decided to partially lift the three-year-old ban on export of non-basmati rice and also allowed export of a particular variety of onion grown in Karnataka.

The Department of Food will prepare a detailed report on the production, consumption and prices of onion to enable the government to take a further view on lifting the ban on export of regular onion in the face of protests by Nashik onion growers against the crash in wholesale prices.

Onion export was banned in December after the domestic prices shot up to Rs.60-70 in most retail markets due to shortfall in early kharif supplies. For now, permission has been given for export of the ‘rose' variety grown in Karnataka and which is not consumed much domestically. It is exported normally to Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

These decisions were taken in the meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on Food chaired by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee here. Bowing to overwhelming demand from rice-growers in southern States, the EGoM allowed export of three varieties of non-basmati rice grown but after imposing quantitative restriction and setting a minimum export price.

So far, only 1.50 lakh tonnes of the Sona Masuri, Rosematta and Ponni Samba variety of rice grown in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been allowed for export.

“Ban on export of onion will continue,” Commerce Minister Anand Sharma told journalists after the meeting. “Ban will continue. Only the Rose variety, grown in Karnataka and not consumed domestically, has been allowed to be exported,” Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said as he emerged from the meeting. Earlier, addressing a press conference to announce the bumper production of wheat, pulses and cotton, Mr. Pawar has said that he favoured opening up exports of non-basmati rice, onion, sugar and cotton to protect the interest of farmers. “Farmers are raising concern that prices of some commodities are going down. Generally it is felt that export should be allowed with cap on quantity. Let the Commerce Ministry and others assess the situation,” he said.

Mr. Pawar pointed out that onion output was likely to be lower at 12.2 million tonnes this year against 13.6 million tonnes last year but still the output would be sufficient to meet domestic requirement.

With expectations of higher sugar output this year exceeding internal demand, he said there were concerns that sugarcane arrears might rise. The international market was favourable for sugar exports, but one will have to think of how to protect the interests of the consumers first before allowing sugar exports, he added.

A decision of the Food Ministry to allow export of five lakh tonnes of sugar from this year's production has been put on hold and was to have been considered in the EGoM. But the issue did not come up for discussion.