The BJP-Sena government in Maharashtra on Thursday rolled out a Rs 150-crore relief package for onion farmers in the state. The dole comes amid growing agrarian distress and on the back of the BJP’s recent poll debacle in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. With the Devendra Fadnavis government announcing an ex-gratia grant of Rs 200 per quintal while imposing a maximum ceiling of 200 quintals per farmer, the dole means that each onion cultivator can avail up to Rs 40,000 in grant from the state exchequer.
While the state has about 10 lakh onion cultivators, the government hasn’t given a carte blanche. It has clarified that those who have sold their produce between November 1 and December 15 will be eligible for the grant.
There has been a sharp drop in onion prices in the state since November. According to senior officials of the state marketing department, the sale price of the old crop of onion (summer harvested crop) has now come down to Rs 250-300 per quintal as compared to Rs 850-Rs 1,500 per quintal in October.
Politically motivated, it will help some farmers
The falling price of onions was bound to have major political ramifications that no political party could remain oblivious to. The subsidy has come in the wake of the BJP's disappointing performance in three states in the Hindi heartland. It remains to be seen if the subsidy will help contain farmers’ unrest but, in the short term, it is bound to help those farmers who have been forced to sell onions at dirt cheap rates. Onion prices in Maharashtra had collapsed over a variety of reasons, such as the carry forward stock of rabi and the early arrival of south Indian onions. Prices are expected to improve after January.
What has compounded matters for local cultivators is the arrival of a fresh crop of onion in the state, which is still going at Rs 750-Rs 850 per quintal on account of superior quality.
The government’s move, which will drain the state’s debt-burdened exchequer further, comes in the wake of protests by onion farmers across the state. The relief translates into an aid of Rs 2 per kg of onion. On condition of anonymity, a senior BJP minister admitted that the move was aimed at curbing unrest among farmers and in rural areas ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Within minutes after the decision was taken, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis termed it as the “biggest relief ever” to onion farmers, while NCP state chief Jayant Patil, a former minister, said that the government was “making a mockery of the farmers”.
In 2016, when onion prices had dropped similarly, the government had extended an ex-gratia grant of Rs 100 per quintal while imposing the same upper limit. The government has clarified that the relief won’t be extended to traders selling onion in Mumbai’s Agriculture Produce Market Committee, Vashi.
Subhash Deshmukh, Minister of Co-operation and Marketing, said: “It is expected that around 2 lakh farmers will benefit from the scheme.” About 75 lakh quintal of onion has been sold between November 1 and December 15, he added.