Grate fully

Onion prices have shot out of the common man’s reach and even the affluent would think twice about buying them at current prices. They have doubled and even trebled in many places over the last two weeks. A kilogram of onion at Rs 100 was unthinkable a few days ago but has become a tearful reality. The price rise is not localised but has been felt in all parts of the country, with places far from the main areas of cultivation feeling the pinch more than others. It might not be impossible for a peel of onion to cost as much as a roti if the price rise continued at the same pace as it did last week.

There is nobody but the government to blame for the situation. Crop losses resulting from unseasonal rains in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu is considered to be the reason for the price rise. The rains occurred in November and there have been reports in the last one month of a likely fall in production. There was enough time to take steps to avert the shortage in the market. Even when supplies were dwindling in the domestic market, onions were being exported, aggravating the crunch.

Exports have now been banned till January 15. If the ban had been imposed a few weeks ago, the present situation would not have arisen. Simultaneously, imports also should have been allowed. The import of small quantities from Pakistan, which is now taking place, cannot be of much help. Timely action was not forthcoming when it mattered.

Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has been found wanting in the past also in taking his ministerial responsibilities seriously. When sugar prices exploded last year, he was guilty of lack of preventive and corrective action, leading to charges of collusion with profiteering lobbies. The minister now can only promise that the prices would be back to normal in three weeks. The government speaks in two voices on the issue. While Pawar has denied any hoarding, commerce minister Anand Sharma has said that enough stocks are available and the shortage has been caused by speculative hoarding. Then why did the government not take any action against the hoarders? Food price inflation is still high and onion prices will make it higher.

Governments have tripped in the past on onions and the present government may also have to pay dearly for its inaction.

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