On a day onion traded at Rs 7,500 per quintal, up from Wednesday’s Rs 5,025 per quintal, at Lasalgaon in Maharashtra’s Nashik district, the country’s largest onion wholesale market, and price of the vegetable in retail market touched Rs 200 per kg in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday held a meeting with ministers and top officials to discuss and review the situation.
According to sources, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare Minster Narendra Singh Tomar attended the meeting.
While Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister Ram Vilas Paswan could not attend due to ill-health, top officials from the ministry are learnt to have made a presentation at the meeting.
The issue of augmenting supply through imports and crackdown on hoarders came up during discussion, sources said.
On Thursday, retail prices of onion was Rs 160 per kg in Chennai, Rs 150 per kg in Pune, Rs 140 per kg in Mumbai, and Rs 100 per kg in Delhi, according to data on the National Horticulture Board portal.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had told Lok Sabha that there was a drastic fall in onion production in towards the end of kharif season this year.
“In 2017-18, it (onion production) was 44.08 lakh metric tonnes; in 2018-19, it was 50.64 lakh metric tonnes. This year, the first estimate and the advanced estimate is 38.87 lakh metric tonnes,” she said while replying debate on supplementary demands for grant in the House.
She had also said, “Price Stabilisation Fund has been used and a buffer stock of about 57,302.90 MT (metric tonnes) of onions was built, and this was based on the Rabi harvest of April and May 2019, out of which around 26,842 MTs – about 46.78 per cent of procurement – was supplied to various governments.”
She said that NAFED, the apex organisation of marketing cooperatives for agricultural produce, has been directed to procure surplus onions from Rajasthan and other distribution centres and send it to other states. MMTC, the state-owned trading firm, is importing onions from Egypt and Turkey, she added.
Why prices are high
Price rise of onions is a direct result of lower production, as unseasonal heavy rain had destroyed large swathes of the almost-ready kharif crop and sowing of late kharif crop. While the Centre is taking steps to import more onions, the imported variety has failed to find too many takers. Traders and farmers say prices will continue to remain high until arrival of the new crop, likely after February.
Sitharaman also received some flak from the Opposition over her comments on the vegetable. When TMC member Sougata Ray asked whether she eats onions, Sitharaman replied, “Mai lahsun, pyaz nahin khati hun. Me aise pariwar se ati hoon jahan lahsun, pyaz se matlab nahin rakhte hain (I do not eat garlic and onion. I come from a family that has nothing to do with garlic and onion).”
Meanwhile, two days after the Union government introduced new stock limits to control skyrocketing prices of onion, only 3,200 quintals of the bulb arrived for auction at Lasalgaon on Thursday. Earlier this week, the Centre set new stock limits for both wholesale and retail onion traders.
Wholesale traders, earlier allowed to stock 500 quintals of onion, are now allowed to hold only 250 quintals.
The stock limit of retail traders has been reduced from 100 quintals to 50 quintals.