Tears over the price of onions

Tears over the price of onions


Tears over the price of onions

Meet any government official, from Delhi’s minister for food and civil supplies Haroon Yusuf to the lowly food inspector, and you are told there is hardly any hike in food prices in the City.

Meet any housewife, from Kingsway Camp to Vasant Kunj, and she would say there is no respite from spiralling prices.

Both sides are right, the government at least on paper.

While the wholesale prices of vegetables, especially staples like potatoes, onions and tomatoes, at Azadpur Sabzi Mandi only show a slight increase, the prices of the same items skyrocket by the time they reach your vegetable basket.

For example, the wholesale price of potatoes on July 18 at Azadpur Mandi stood between Rs 10 and Rs 20 per kilo. The wholesale price of tomatoes was between Rs 8 and Rs 30, and onions sold there for Rs 3.75 to Rs 8.50.

Now come to retail prices. Tomatoes that day sold for Rs 50 a kilo in Yusuf Sarai market, Rs 42 in Kotla, Rs 50 in Janakpuri, Rs 45 in Paharganj and Rs 44 in Shahadra.

Both these rates – wholesale and retail – are  compiled by the Market Intelligence Cell (MIC) of the Delhi government and sent to the Centre and Delhi's  food and supplies department.

“Where is the inflation? If you buy tomatoes at Rs 30 per kg in Azadpur Mandi, it is bound to be sold in retail at Rs 40-50. Tomatoes are being brought from Maharashtra and Karnataka now that the Haryana fields have been exhausted.

Bringing them from Maharashtra and Karnataka will cost more due to transportation charges,” says an official at Delhi government's food and civil supplies department.
When told that the same tomatoes are being sold at Rs 60 in Vasant Kunj and Mayur Vihar by vendors, the official shrugs that off. He says the government cannot control that. People should not buy from such vendors.

“The wholesale rates at mandis are published in newspapers and people should get their weekly or monthly requirements from there, instead of bowing to the whims and fancies of vendors,” he advises, holding consumers responsible for abetting price rise.
However, this idea has not many takers.

“You expect us to go to Azadpur Mandi to buy five kg of onions or potatoes. Do you calculate the time and petrol being wasted in the effort? It will cost more,” says 50-year-old Shanti Verma, a Mayur Vihar resident.

Hidden costs

Naseemuddin (name changed), a vegetable vendor in Mayur Vihar Phase I, agrees that he sells vegetables at much higher prices than what he pays for them in the wholesale Azadpur Mandi.  And, he justifies the mark-up.

“Who will pay the cops who demand money on the way while the vegetables are being brought from there to here ? Then we have to grease the palms of local beat constables for setting up our shop on the pavement. Municipal officials get their own cut. Boss, sab ko jo diya who sabzi ke rate mein hi judega. (Whatever I shelled out has to be added to the price of the vegetables only)”, says Naseemuddin.

Naseemuddin says it's the same for all  vendors in the city. The authorities' cut adds to the prices.

But, then this is not something new. Traders have always been paying the police and MCD officials. So, what led to this sudden spurt in vegetable and food prices?

Minister Haroon Yusuf says delayed monsoon is the culprit. “You check the records of the last 20 years; prices go up during the monsoon season. This is not new,” he says.
Has Delhi government no control over rising  prices? Yusuf says the government cannot control fruit and vegetable prices straightaway but it is certainly planning to reduce their impact.

“We are working to create smaller mandis within the colonies themselves so that products could be brought directly there from the Azadpur Mandi at wholesale prices, and sold to the people. For this we will have to bring in an amendment in the Agriculture Produce Marketing Act (APMA), and once it is done, things will improve.”
Conspiracy theory

However, the state of the monsoon or destruction of crops being cited as the reason for inflation does not convince  food policy analyst Devinder Sharma.

He says a monsoon delay of  five or 10 days doesn't lead to a price spiral, since there is no shortage of food commodities in the country. And, if at all, the rain affect something, it will be the future crops.

The analyst,  who is also referred to as 'Green Chomsky', sees a 'conspiracy' in all this.

“There is no justification of price rise at this time. It is a huge conspiracy and government has deliberately allowed the prices to go up since it is preparing the grounds for bringing in FDI in retail. They will next say that the prices will go down once the FDI in retail is implemented. Only three days ago commerce minister Anand Sharma said that opposition to FDI has lessened. How does he know?” says Sharma.

He mentions Obama's recent comment on Indian economy, and articles on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Time and The Independent. “The conspiracy machines are working full time to provoke Singh and to pat his back once the FDI is introduced.”

Leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly V K Malhotra holds chief minister Sheila Dikshit solely responsible for the all-round price rise in essential commodities, vegetables included. Wholesalers in Azadpur Mandi say the vendors are inducing
inflation by selling them at huge profits. Vendors accuse civic and police authorities.

Authorities blame rain.

Poor Delhi

Even as the reasons for inflation are being debated upon, a survey by business chamber  Assocham carried out in March-April this year revealed that the middle and lower-income groups were forced to slash 65 per cent of spending on things like entertainment, shopping and vacations due to high food inflation in the past six months. Delhi ranked first among the major cities in making the sacrifices.

The survey showed that consumers in the metros are worst affected by rising food inflation. Delhiites know it better than the rest – as not only in food items but also in electricity rates and the CNG price,  Delhi has seen it all in the last two months alone.

  Crying hoarse over hike in prices of lemon and pumpkin is not expected of such brave hearts. Or, at least the government thinks so.

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