A series of raids by the Income- Tax department on seven prominent onion traders in Nashik district on Thursday brought onion auction to a grinding halt in the district on Friday. The raids were conducted in 25 locations owned by prominent traders Satish Lunkad of Satana, Khandu Deore of Umrane, Praveen Hedda of Chandwad, Ratanlal Raka of Lasalgaon, Kantilal Surana of Lasalgaon, Rameshwar Attal of Yeola and Sohanlal Bhandari of Pimpalgaon. The raids also come after wholesale inflation rose to a four-month high of 3.24 per cent in August with prices of food items, especially onions and vegetables, soaring. Onion prices rose over 88 per cent in August.
The raids are a culmination of a month-long monitoring of markets in Nashik district, the onion basket of the country accounting for nearly 15 per cent of the production. Last month, a delegation of the central government led by top officials from the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution was in Laslagaon to ascertain the reasons for the massive fluctuation in onion prices in the APMCs. Subsequently, the local administration had been keeping a close eye on onion stocks in godowns of traders to ensure there was no hoarding.
Earlier this week, farmers in the district had also complained that they were being shortchanged in the market. In spite of the heavy demand for onions from Nashik due to crop failure in states such as Gujarat and MP, farmers claimed they were not getting the requisite price. In August, the price per quintal of onion was between Rs 1,250 and Rs 2,450. In September, it fell to Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,820. “Farmers have been getting a measly Rs 10 to Rs 15 per kg in the APMC for their produce while in the local market people are buying it for Rs 30 to Rs 35. We are having difficulty in even recovering our cost of production. Someone has been benefiting at our expense and the government needs to crack down on them,” Keshav Kor, a farmer from Lasalgaon, said.
A section of farmers was, however, critical of the central government, saying it was trying to create fear in the minds of traders and farmers. “Prices of onions have been falling for the past two years. The government never felt the need to send a committee to the APMC to find out why. However, in August when farmers were getting a good price, a committee was sent which led to prices dipping in the market. If the government is so keen on helping the consumers, it should announce a minimum support price of Rs 2,000 per quintal for farmers,” said Deepak Pagar, leader of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna.
Miffed traders, meanwhile, decided to stay away from the APMC on Friday with no auction taking place in most onion markets. Traders are planning to meet on Saturday in Vinchur to formalise their next course of action. “We have decided to shut markets till September 18 and will meet in Vinchur to formalise our strategy. Traders are affected by this anti-trader stand of this government,” Bhausaheb Kapadnis, chairman of the Nampur APMC, said.
Meanwhile, the government and the district administration have said there was no need for farmers or traders to panic. “The raids may have been conducted on some tip-off or complaint. Such raids are not conducted without reason. Those whose paperwork are in order should have no reason to fear,” said state Cooperation Minister Subhash Deshmukh.
Maharashtra, which contributes nearly 35 per cent of the total onion production in the country, harvests onions thrice a year from October to May. The kharif and the late kharif crop called Pol and Rangda is harvested from December to March. However, its yield and storage quality are not very good, forcing farmers to dispose the crop quickly creating a huge glut in the market in January, February and May. The high quality rabi product marked by a higher yield and longer storage capacity is harvested from April to May and can be sold at a relatively easy pace till October.
Due to the seasonal variation in production, the months of October, November, December and January are known to be the time when onion prices reach a high while prices take a dip in the months of March, April, May and June. However, due to the recent climatic changes in Maharashtra, prices appear to have been thrown out of gear. The farmers and traders of Lasalgaon believe the rule of free market should be applicable with demand and supply dynamics determining the prices of agricultural commodities.