An increasing onion crisis in India has not only left citizens teary-eyed but it is also spiralling into a major concern for the Narendra Modi-led NDA government, which is already facing criticism over the country's lacklustre economic growth.
Households and restaurants in India are reeling under pressure as onion prices have surged exponentially across the country. A kilo of onion is retailing at Rs 90-100 in most Indian states, peaking at Rs 120-130 per kilo in major cities like Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Odisha, and Pune.
Though an onion crisis is not new in India, last time the retail price of the bulb crop touched Rs 100 per kilo in 2013, it was among one of the reasons which led to a shift in power at the Centre the following year.
As per reports coming in from wholesale and retail markets across the country, the situation in 2019 looks far worse. So much so that thieves are opting to steal onions over cash and people are having fist-fights over the kitchen staple.
Not only is the fresh hike in onion prices having far-reaching consequences on households but scores of small restaurants have also been forced to reduce using the bulb crop. Traders, wholesalers, and farmers have been equally affected as people cut down on using the kitchen staple.
Though many are trying to substitute costly onions with other cheaper alternatives like cabbage and radish, it is almost impossible to completely junk onions, a kitchen favourite in most households in India.
Therefore, people are now left with no choice but to incur higher costs to buy onions.
THE VICIOUS ONION CYCLE
This is the second time onion prices increased after the government had earlier banned export and imposed a stock limit on traders to stabilise rising rates in October. It had even increased the Minimum Export Price for onions to $850 per tonne, making it very difficult for traders to export.
On Wednesday, an official government statement indicated that the stockholding limit for on traders (retailers and wholesalers) has been extended until further orders.
The reason behind the fresh hike in onion prices can be attributed to higher wholesale rates triggered by unseasonal rainfalls in Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra, the largest onion growing state in the country.
The wholesale price of onions reached Rs 65 per kilo at the Lasalgaon APMC mandi, the largest in the country.
While the wholesale and retail price of onions had almost normalised after the government banned the export of onions of all varieties on September 30, 2019, the situation has further worsened.
A vegetable vendor from Nagpur recently said that they are purchasing onions at a higher rate of Rs 60-70 per kilogram and are selling it at Rs 80 per kilo in the market. "So, due to the rise in price, customers are buying only 250-500 grams of onions.
Since retailers are selling onions at higher rates, customers have either cut off onions completely from their menu or reduced it drastically.
This is neither good for the country's farmers or traders, who are witnessing a fall in demand, which could lead to further disruptions in the country's onion trade.
Almost all states across India are paying Rs 90-100 minimum for a kilo of onions as of Thursday. The price is even more in south Indian states, where prices have even shot to Rs 130 per kilo. In Delhi, too, onion prices are retailing at Rs 70-90 per kilo.
While Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal accused the Centre on Wednesday of stopping the supply of the kitchen staple at the controlled price, the government on Wednesday clarified that it is taking all possible steps to normalise prices.
"It's not in our hand, the government is making maximum efforts but who can win from nature," said Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan.