THE ONION SAGA

IT raids on Nashik traders un­ravel the murky plot

DNA (Delhi) - - OPINION -

What is it with onions and run­away prices? The an­swer to that tear-jerk­ing co­nun­drum should be pro­vided by In­come Tax (I-T) sleuths who raided the of­fices, godowns, and res­i­dences of seven big onion traders in Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Nashik district on Thurs­day. As if on cue, onion prices fell 35 per cent in Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Lasal­gaon mar­ket, India’s largest whole­sale vegetable mar­ket, on Wed­nes­day just be­fore the raids. It also has a south Asian an­gle since Ma­ha­rash­tra’s traders were plan­ning to reap the div­i­dends of an ar­ti­fi­cial de­mand by ex­port­ing the vegetable to Pak­istan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Ap­pre­hen­sive of the jack­ing up of prices of es­sen­tial items on ac­count of the rise in global crude oil de­mand, In­tel­li­gence Bureau and state author­i­ties had kept a close watch on the big­wigs of the Nashik mar­ket. When prices shot up by 50 per cent and 20 per cent in Lasal­gaon and Delhi mar­kets, re­spec­tively, be­tween Au­gust 1 and the first week of Septem­ber, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment re­alised that it was time to act. Every year, the kitchen sta­ple sud­denly be­comes a pro­hib­i­tively-priced item, even when there is a bumper crop. This leads to the only con­clu­sion that a sec­tion of traders is in­dulging in mal­prac­tices. The peel­ing of the onion story, which is sim­i­lar to other man-made scarci­ties in­volv­ing agri­cul­tural pro­duce, con­fronts the na­tion with un­palat­able facts. It shows how greedy prof­i­teer­ing by a hand­ful of peo­ple has con­tin­ued at the ex­pense of both farm­ers and con­sumers. At the heart of the agrar­ian cri­sis and the tremen­dous strain on the ex­che­quer due to farm-loan waivers, is the bit­ter story of a thriv­ing black mar­ket. Re­call how tomato prices reached the Rs 100 mark in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try in July this year. Green chilies too had be­come un­touch­able. This mon­soon, while it poured heav­ily, prices of veg­eta­bles shot through the roof, reg­is­ter­ing in some cities a 200-per-cent jump. Sadly, the poor farmer doesn’t get to en­joy these gains. Every sea­son he will suf­fer, ei­ther for a bumper crop or un­sea­sonal rains and hail­storm de­stroy­ing his yield. The only way to stem the rot is to cre­ate a pol­icy of deter­rence through ex­em­plary pun­ish­ment. And, at the same time, keep a hawk-eyed vigil on the mar­kets. The cre­ation of an av­enue that would en­able farm­ers to sell their crops di­rectly to con­sumers would be an ef­fec­tive way to keep the mid­dle­men out of the sys­tem. Lastly, the gov­ern­ment should in­sti­tu­tion­alise a sys­tem of bet­ter sup­port prices for the cul­ti­va­tors.

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