Onions are one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen. They are used in almost every Indian dish-be it in curries to add a depth and pungent kick or as a crunchy, fried topping for biryanis. They easily merge with different flavours and add their distinctive taste to set your dish apart. Onion is ‘food-for-the-poor’ because they eat raw onions with every meal. Thus, onion is a staple in most of our households. Onions are a stay-safe and healthy food that deliver health with every bite. But the spike in its price has shaken all of us.

The wholesale and retail prices have increased in markets across the country, including the largest wholesale onion market in Nasik, Lasalgaon Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC). Heavy rainfall damaged the new Kharif onions largely, and the new Kharif crop is expected to arrive by mid-November. 

Due to the shortage of supply, the humble onion burns a hole in consumers’ pockets and skewing household budgets. Onion prices have seen a sharp rise over the last few days, with the staple vegetable now retailing for Rs. 100 per kilo in some markets in Mumbai and Pune and most of cities of other states in India. 

NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Wednesday blamed the central government’s policies for rising onion prices and said that he would discuss with the Centre about the issue of the stock limit being imposed on onion traders.

Speaking to onion growers and traders in Maharashtra’s Nashik district, Pawar said a comprehensive policy is needed to look into the onion export ban and stock limit, adding that the system should cover the interests of all stakeholders.

The Union government was aware of the price build-up in onion prices. It also took several steps over the last two weeks to contain the situation. To discourage export of the commodity, it announced a fixed minimum export price (MEP) of $850 a tonne for export of all varieties of onions. However, it failed to have the desired effect, forcing the government to consider imposing the stock limit on traders.

Under the essential commodities act of 1955, the Union government is empowered to notify the stock limit for a commodity for a specific period to prevent its hoarding. Once a state has announced the stock limit recommended by the Union government, then all market participants like retailers, wholesalers, traders, and exporters will have to comply with the stock limit. It ensures more supply in the market to cool down the prices.

To contain onion prices, last week, the Centre imposed a stock holding limit on retail and wholesale traders till December 31 to improve the domestic availability of the vital kitchen staple and provide relief to consumers. Retailers can stock up onions up to 2 tonnes, whereas wholesale traders can keep up to 25 tonnes of onion stock, the Centre said.

To register their protest against the Centre’s move, traders boycotted onion auctions for the last two days in all 15 Agriculture Produce Market Committees in Nashik, including at Lasalgaon APMC, Asia’s biggest onion market.

Pawar on Wednesday urged traders to reopen the markets for auction and said the government’s move to ban export. Simultaneously, promoting imports was contradictory and suggested that the stock limit condition should also be removed.

He further attacked the Centre for excluding onions from the list of essential commodities. Talking about raids against onion traders, Pawar said the state government was not responsible for the move. “The state government is not responsible for action against traders. The decision on import and export of onion occurs at the central government level,” said Pawar, whose party is an alliance partner in the Uddhav Thackeray’ s-led Maharashtra government.

Maharashtra is one of the top producers of onion, and Nashik is a central hub of the commodity.

However, Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMCS)across Nasik district, including the one at Lasalgaon, resumed onion auction after five days on Friday, October 30, 2020, as per TOI. Around 3,292 quintals of onions were auctioned alone. It is believed that with an increase in supply, onion prices will reduce further, giving solace to the general public.

In a bid to curtail scarcity further, the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry on Sunday amended the export policy of onion from free to prohibited, which amounts to banning all varieties of onions from export, with immediate effect.

In a notification issued today by Director-General of Foreign Trade, Alok Vardhan Chaturvedi announced an amendment in onions’ export policy.

“Export policy of onion for the item description at Serial Number 51 & 52 of Chapter 7 of Schedule 2 of ITC (HS) classification of Export and Import Items is amended from free to prohibited till further orders”, the notification reads.

The prohibition by the government comes amid rising prices of onions across the country.

“Onion situation will improve in the next few days. Cooperative Nafed is releasing stock from the central buffer at a lower price. We have enough stock of onions,” agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters on the sidelines of a function in New Delhi.