Fuming at the Centre's decision to ban export of onions, farmers from Nashik district, which is the leading producer of the bulb across the country, on Tuesday protested by blocking the Mumbai-Nashik highway, Similar protests were held in elsewhere in the state. The farmers have strongly criticised the government’s ‘ untimely’ move, as onion prices have fallen sharply -- from Rs 2,900 a quintal to Rs 1,900 -- a grand fall of Rs 1,000 per quintal in just a single day. However, in the retail market, onion prices have surged, costing between Rs 40 and 50 per kg, almost double from the earlier Rs 25 per kg.
The Maharashtra State Onion Growers' Association (MSGAA) has demanded immediate resumption of exports. Members gathered in large numbers at Lasalgaon, to protest the Centre’s decision. At Lasalgaon, Manmad and Niphad in Nashik district the farmers closed auctions, following the sudden, deep crash in prices. Afraid that prices would further fall, as a large quantity of onion kept in storage has been severely damaged by the continuous rain since June and high humidity. To top this, there has been an almost 30 to 40 per cent fall in arrivals of the kitchen staple from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. Heavy rain has also played the spoiler and impacted supply from Lonand, Chakan and Solapur.
A seasoned onion grower from Lasalgaon, Nanasaheb Patil told The Free Press Journal, ‘‘The government’s decision is unwarranted. Neither the consumer nor the trader and farmers have made any plea for the same. Due to the coronavirus slowdown, farmers are already reeling from a crisis. They had sold onion at Rs 500 per quintal, well below the cost of production of Rs 900 per quintal. At a time when onion growers were getting prices between Rs 2,400 to Rs 2,900 per quintal in the state and there was a demand in global market, the government has banned export.’’ He further informed that supply from Nandurbar, Dhule and Jalgaon would only begin from October 15 and if the ban were to continue, it could cause prices at the wholesale market to crash but traders would hike retail prices for want of sufficient supply.
The ruling Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress have openly expressed support for the agitated farmers, demanding an immediate withdrawal of the export ban. The Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government will soon seek the Prime Minister’s intervention and plead for a lifting of the ban considering the demand in global markets.
Maharashtra Minister of State Bachhu Kadu has slammed the Centre, saying onion growers will be in trouble. ‘‘On the one hand, there is a crash in the local market and on the other, they will not get any income as more than 400 containers are stuck at Mumbai port,’’ he noted. He also hinted at an agitation should the ban continue.
Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha leader Ajit Nawale termed the Centre’s decision anti-farmer and also threatened to launch a state-wide agitation.
PAWAR MEETS GOYAL
Former Union Minister and Nationalist Congress Party Chief Sharad Pawar on Tuesday met Union Minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal and urged him to reconsider the ban. ‘‘Onions are being exported because there has been a higher demand globally. Indian has been a consistent onion exporter. Such a sudden decision to ban will severely dent India’s image as a reliable exporter in the international market,’’ said Pawar. He further stated, the ban by India has been a boon for Pakistan and other onion exporting countries.
Pawar said there was a strong reaction from the onion-growing belt in Maharashtra and elected representatives of various political parties had contacted him on Monday night, requesting him to make a representation of their issues following the ban. He added that he had informed the minister about the onion growers’ woes in Maharashtra.
Pawar brought to Goyal’s notice that onion is grown on Jirayat or unirrigated land and the majority of the growers were small landholders. ‘‘Therefore, I have requested that the Centre needs to urgently reconsider the ban on onion export,’’ he noted.
Pawar said the minister had informed him the proposal to ban onion export was moved by the department of consumer protection, in the wake of surge in onion prices. ‘‘The commerce minister has said that there will shortly be a meeting between his ministry and those of finance and consumer protection to discuss the issue and if the three ministries arrive at a consensus, the ban will be reconsidered,’’ he added.
In a related development, Maharashtra Minister of Food and Civil Supplies Chhagan Bhujbal, who is guardian minister of Nashik district guardian minister, voiced concerns over the ban on export. ‘‘Already onion growers are reeling under a major crisis as they could not sell their crop because of the coronavirus lockdown. After the relaxation and unlocking exercise, they were looking for a market when prices had surged to over Rs 2,000 a quintal. The ban has led to a crash in prices, which will further increase the financial stress of onion growers,’’ he said.
Bhujbal demanded that the Centre should provide a minimum support price and the onion growers should be compensated if the prices crash.
Meanwhile, the state Congress unit will stage an agitation across Maharashtra, demanding the lifting of the export ban. Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee Chief and Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat reminded the Centre of its announcement on June 4 about excluding onions, potatoes and pulses from the list of essential commodities. ‘‘So why has the government reversed its decision, when there has been a surge in onion prices in the market. It was a much needed relief for farmers, who had lost 50 per cent of their crop during the lockdown because of restrictions on transportation,’’ he noted.