Tughlaq darbar

There are few other examples of the government’s pusillanimity and indecisiveness than its flip flop on onion exports in a matter of less than a fortnight. Export of the essential commodity was banned on September 7, and  the decision was reversed 13 days later on September 20.  Strangely the reason for the original decision and its reversal remained the same and it was protecting the interests of farmers and consumers. Did the ban achieve its aim of bringing down the prices of onions in a few days? Actually the prices did not come down and only increased during the period. For the last few weeks the prices were increasing on account of reduced supplies resulting from damage caused to the crops by the monsoon. Onion prices are politically sensitive and the BJP government had to pay dearly for the runaway prices in 1998. The ban was perhaps prompted by that.

But the government reckoned without the possibility of political pressure being brought on it by the onion lobby and the interests that went with it. Most of the onion produce in the country comes from Maharashtra. Protesting against the ban the farmers withheld produce from the market and with supplies dwindling the prices began to move up. It was actually the interests of  traders and intermediaries that were more affected by the ban  because it became difficult  for them to release the hoarded produce into the market. The government caved in to the pressure exerted by the onion lobby in Maharashtra which is the home state of agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. Last year also it was the lack of timely action on the part of Pawar that had caused onion prices to shoot up to Rs 85 per kg in  many parts of the country. Pawar was also to blame for the inordinate rise in sugar prices in 2009. The criticism that he has used his ministerial power and clout with the UPA to protect and promote his interests in his state at the cost of those of most others in the country has persisted, and unfortunately the UPA government has not been able to withstand such pressure.

Tughlaq style decision-making on matters of importance to common people puts the government in a poor light. Decisions about the prices of agricultural commodities and  their export should be based on sound principles and policy and public interest. They should not cater to vested interests and political compulsions. 

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