The state-owned MMTC Ltd has floated a tender for import of onions from “Pakistan, Egypt, China, Afghanistan or any other origin”, triggering criticism from farmers in Maharashtra.
“How can they do this when our kharif crop is going to be harvested in just over a month’s time, after Diwali? And why import from Pakistan? Is the Indian farmer a bigger enemy?,” asked Raju Shetty, chairman of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana.
The MMTC tender, dated September 6, has sought delivery of the imported shipments by November-end. “The new crop and the imports will arrive at the same time, thus negating any chances of our farmers getting good rates,” said Shetty.
Currently, wholesale prices of onion at Lasalgaon in Maharashtra’s Nashik district are ruling at around Rs 2,300 per quintal, while the bulb is retailing at Rs 39-42/kg in major metros.
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“The quantity for which the bids have been invited (2,000 tonnes, plus or minus 2 per cent) is not huge, but it will definitely have an impact on sentiment. Farmers who have stocked from the rabi crop will now hasten to liquidate these, bringing down prices,” said Jaydutta Holkar, chairman of the APMC (agricultural produce market committee) mandi at Lasalgaon.
The average modal price of onion in this market, the country’s largest, has risen from Rs 830 per quintal in April to Rs 931 in May, Rs 1,222 in June, Rs 1,252 in July and Rs 1,880 in August. This month, it has so far averaged Rs 2,377 per quintal.
In Maharashtra — which produces roughly a third of India’s onions, much of it in Nashik, Pune, Ahmednagar and parts of Marathwada — farmers take three crops of the bulb: kharif (sown in June-July and harvested in October-November), late-kharif (sown in August-September and harvested in January-March) and rabi (sown in November-December and harvested after March). Of these, the rabi onion can be stored due to its lower moisture content. Farmers usually stock these onions in ‘kanda chawls’ (on-field raised structures designed to prevent moisture ingress) and gradually offload them during the summer and monsoon months.
“Last year, prices hardly crossed Rs 1,000 per quintal in the off-season. This time, when farmers are making some money after a long time, a government-owned trading company is being allowed to import from Pakistan. This is sheer hypocrisy,” said Shetty.
Holkar, too, said there was no need to import when the Centre had created a buffer stock of 56,000 tonnes procured from the rabi crop, of which only about 18,000 tonnes have been sold till now. Onion consumption will anyway come down with the Navratri festival season beginning September-end. And by the time the imports come, the kharif crop would have also arrived in the markets.
Deepak Pagar, a farmer from Nampur village in Nashik’s Baglan taluka, had stored 680 quintals of rabi onion from his 7-acre holding. Of this, he has sold about 540 quintals at an average rate of Rs 18 per kg. “The government never bothers when we get Rs 700-800 per quintal, which does not even cover our cost of production. But they wake up the moment consumers have to pay a little more. Why should they import,” he said.
On June 11, the Centre had scrapped a 10 per cent subsidy on outbound onion shipments under the Commerce Ministry’s merchandise export from India scheme, when retail prices in Delhi touched Rs 20-21 per kg. The move to import now comes even as Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana are headed for Assembly polls later this year.