In-Depth | When onion made India cry: How onion price rise affects politics, business and the common man

The price of onion has been hovering above Rs 100 per kilogram for over a month leaving the entire nation wailing. Skyrocketed prices of this key kitchen staple has not only left households teary-eyed but traders, wholesalers, and farmers have also been equally affected as people are beginning to cut back using the costly bulb.

Scores of small restaurants are also feeling the pinch as rising prices of onion is taking a hit on their business. While some restaurants are opting to pass on the burden to customers, many others are mulling over reducing the usage of onion until the situation stabilises.

The power of the bulb, which is an essential utility item for the rich as it is for the poor, can be seen in ways that it is tempting thieves, destroying livelihoods and putting a question mark on the policies of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government.

Even as the Centre is taking steps to tackle the onion crisis, the Opposition is leaving no opportunity to target the government over the exponential spike in onion prices.

The primary reason that the Centre should be jittery is because onion prices have had the potential to topple governments in the past.

What has led to the rise in onion prices?

The sudden rise in the price of this ubiquitous kitchen item has been officially attributed to a decline in domestic production during kharif (harvested after October) and late-kharif (harvested in January- March) seasons because of late monsoon followed by excess rains in major producing states such as Maharashtra and Karnataka.

There is a shortfall in production by over 15.8 lakh tonnes this year, as per the data provided by Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar in Lok Sabha. According to the minister, states had estimated production of onion to be over 69.9 lakh tonnes by November 30 in this season, but the actual production is likely to be 53.67 lakh tonnes.

Also, the kharif acreage has dipped from 2.97 lakh hectares in 2018-19 to 2.58 lakh hectares in 2019, according to a report by The Indian Express citing Agriculture ministry data.

The heavy unseasonal rainfall which lashed Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat in September also contributed to the price rise as it damaged the ready crop in these states.

What is the average rate of onion prevailing in the country?

The price of this kitchen essential has been rising steadily in the country. It started to climb from September and has averaged over Rs 100 per kg since November 25.

Since then, the price has hovered over the Rs 100 per kg mark in most states. The rates are as high as Rs 165/kg in Panaji (Goa).

As per official data, onion prices are ruling at Rs 96 per kg in the national capital, Rs 102 per kg in Mumbai, Rs 100 in Chennai and Rs 140 per kg in Kolkata.

Onion is being sold at Rs 160 per kg in Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Mayabunder, and at Rs 150 per kg in Tirupati, Ernakulam, Thrissur and Palakkad.

In Bengaluru, Wayanad, Ramanathapuram and Port Blair, the rates stood at Rs 140 per kg.

Onion prices prevailed at Rs 120 per kg in Gurugram, Jagdalpur, Behrampur, Purulia, Maldah, Itanagar, Agartala, Puducherry, Dindigul, Tirunelveli and Dharmapuri.

In Amritsar, Surat, Jabalpur, Darbhanga, Sambalpur, Balasore and Gangtok, onion prices were Rs 110 per kg.

Onion rates are Rs 100 per kg in Chandigarh, Shimla, Mandi, Srinagar, Jammu, Ludhiana, Gorakhpur, Haridwar, Ahmedabad, Patna, Cuttack, Jeypore, Kharagpur, Raiganj, Shillong and Tiruchirappalli.

Why does the onion matter so much?

Onion is a staple in kitchen and an essential ingredient in most cuisines. Therefore, an increase in the price of the bulb affects a large section of the society including farmers, traders, wholesalers and households.

The price rise has also adversely affected the business of street-side food vendors and small restaurants.

Bitan Mukherjee, co-owner of a retro-themed cafe in Kolkata told PTI that the skyrocketing prices of onions were affecting the profit margin in the restaurant, adding that he would be compelled to increase the rate of items if the situation does not stabilise.

In talks with the news agency, Promod Jha, a jhalmuri seller in central Kolkata, said he was forced to replace onion with a generous amount of chillies and black pepper. “I used to buy 4-5 kg of onion every day. Now, I can’t afford. Hopefully, my customers will understand my situation,” he added.

The importance of the vegetable is also being seen in unexpected ways; the rise in its price is tempting thievery. The police has registered cases for missing onions, launched probes, arrested people and recovered the bulb from them.

In one such incident, cops arrested two persons for allegedly stealing 168 kgs of onion worth Rs 20,160 in south Mumbai. Yet they could recover only 68 kgs of onions from the duo.

A case has also been registered against Union Minister of Consumer Affairs Ram Vilas Pawan for “misleading and cheating” people on the rise in the price of onion. It was filed by a person named M Raju Nayyar in Muzaffarpur Civil Court who said that Paswan misled people through his statement that the price of the vegetable has gone up due to its black marketing.The crisis has given an opportunity to social media users, who have let out a barrage of memes. From targetting the government to pointing out problems of the common man, people have flooded social media platforms with posts about the rising unaffordability of the essential food item.

Source: Moneycontrol

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