Pal­try re­lief to onion farm­ers

FrontLine - - OBITUARY -

“ONIONS don’t just make the cook cry,” said Sub­hash

Wairkire, a young farmer from Nashik who had brought his pro­duce to a farm­ers’ mar­ket in Mum­bai.

The sar­casm in his voice was un­mis­tak­able. A bumper crop of onions this year had en­sured a price slump. “What should have been a bo­nanza has ac­tu­ally beg­gared us,” he said, re­fer­ring to the throw­away prices at which the pro­duce is sold. Wairkire was only partly af­fected, but sev­eral onion farm­ers had lost an en­tire sea­son’s po­ten­tial earn­ings. “I am safe,” he ex­plained, “be­cause I also cul­ti­vate broc­coli, as­para­gus and other ‘city veg­eta­bles.’” (City veg­eta­bles is be­cause these are cul­ti­vated for and brought specif­i­cally to weekly mar­kets in Mum­bai.)

The onion price slump since Novem­ber has made the dis­ap­pointed farm­ers send their earn­ings to Ma­ha­rash­tra Chief Min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis and Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi. One farmer from Nashik dis­trict re­port­edly do­nated Rs.1,064—the amount he had earned from sell­ing 750 kg of onions at about Rs.1 per kg—to the Prime Min­is­ter’s Re­lief Fund. An­other farmer from Ahmed­na­gar dis­trict sent Rs.6 to Fad­navis. He had sold his stock of 2,657 kg at Rs.1 a kg. The Rs.6 was what was left over after pay­ing mar­ket, labour and trans­port ex­penses. He had in­vested Rs.2 lakh to raise the onion crop.

On De­cem­ber 20, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-SHIV Sena gov­ern­ment an­nounced a Rs.150 crore re­lief pack­age for onion farm­ers in Ma­ha­rash­tra. How­ever, the scheme will be ap­pli­ca­ble to those farm­ers who sold their pro­duce be­tween Novem­ber 1 and De­cem­ber 15. The to­tal pro­duce sold in this pe­riod amounted to 74.86 lakh tonnes. The gov­ern­ment’s rea­son­ing is that un­til Novem­ber farm­ers had got Rs.850-1,500 a quin­tal for the sum­mer har­vest. By Novem­ber, the fresh crop had ar­rived but the sum­mer bounty was still avail­able in the mar­ket and so there was a glut, lead­ing to a crash in prices. Farm­ers now earned only Rs.250-rs.300 a quin­tal for the sum­mer crop. Prices for the freshly har­vested crop, too, took a beat­ing and it sold at about Rs.750-rs.850 a quin­tal.

The Fad­navis gov­ern­ment de­clared an ex gra­tia grant of Rs.200 a quin­tal, with a ceil­ing of 200 quin­tals per farmer, which meant that each el­i­gi­ble farmer would get about Rs.40,000. But be­cause of the stip­u­lated time frame of Novem­ber 1 to De­cem­ber 15, not all of the 10 lakh onion farm­ers in the State will be el­i­gi­ble for the grant. About 75 lakh quin­tals were sold in the above pe­riod. Agri­cul­ture of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that about two lakh farm­ers are ex­pected to ben­e­fit from the re­lief pack­age. It is not clear if the Rs.6 that was sent to Fad­navis prompted the re­lief pack­age though it seems un­likely, con­sid­er­ing that there was lit­tle re­sponse from the State gov­ern­ment to the tra­vails of farm­ers. It would not be too far off the mark to say that Fad­navis was en­cour­aged to an­nounce the re­lief pack­age be­cause of the BJP’S de­feat in the

Mad­hya Pradesh, Ra­jasthan and Ch­hat­tis­garh As­sem­bly elec­tions.

The Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party, which has a large ru­ral voter base, has said that the State gov­ern­ment’s of­fer had “made a mock­ery of farm­ers”. The gov­ern­ment re­tal­i­ated by say­ing that the ex gra­tia is more than the 2016 grant of Rs.100 a quin­tal, with a ceil­ing of 200 quin­tals a farmer. “Farm­ers will al­ways store a crop if there is ex­cess. They can sell later or use it for home con­sump­tion. This prac­tice should trans­late into a profit for them. In­stead it is work­ing to their dis­ad­van­tage,” said a co­op­er­a­tive and mar­ket­ing de­part­ment of­fi­cial. He added, “This is why Raj Thack­eray’s tac­tics find ap­proval.” The ref­er­ence is to the sug­ges­tion of the Ma­ha­rash­tra Nav Nir­man Sena chief that farm­ers hurl onions at politi­cians

The Cen­tre has stepped in and ex­tended ex­port sub­sidy to onions un­til Jan­uary 2019. Of­fi­cials in the co­op­er­a­tive and mar­ket­ing de­part­ment said that if cold stor­age fa­cil­i­ties were im­proved, the over­all out­look would be bet­ter for farm­ers.

Lyla Bavadam

NA­TION­AL­IST CONGRESS PARTY work­ers dis­trib­ute onions for free in So­la­pur on De­cem­ber 8 dur­ing a protest over their low price.

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