New Delhi, Jan 11 (Agencies): Onion prices may increase further as traders in Azadpur mandi here on Tuesday called for a strike from tomorrow against tax raids, even as the state government has threatened to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against the traders.

The traders at Azadpur, Asia's biggest vegetable and fruit market, have protested income tax raids, which are being carried out throughout the country to check hoarding.

Onion prices continue to be in the range of Rs 55-60 per kg in retail markets. The government has also asked agri cooperative Nafed to open more outlets to sell onion at a cheaper rate of Rs 35 a kg in Delhi and the NCR.

"Onion traders are feeling harassed by income tax raids and have thus decided to go on strike from tomorrow," Delhi Agricultural and Marketing Board Chairman Brahm Yadav said.

He said auctions will not take place tomorrow, disrupting the entire supply chain to retail points.

Other mandis in Delhi and NCR region may also join the protest, he said.

Responding quickly, Delhi Food and Civil Supplies Minister Haroon Yusuf said, "If necessary, the Delhi government would not hesitate to invoke ESMA against the onion traders if they go on the strike.

"We are trying our best to bring down the prices of onion and at this juncture the strike is totally uncalled for," he said.

Yusuf, however, said government was ready to look into "genuine grievances" of the traders but would not allow them to make people suffer because of the agitation.

Meanwhile, Union Agriculture Secretary P K Basu said that the Centre was in touch with the state (Delhi) government to address traders' concerns so that supply of onion was not affected.

The strike call by traders in Azadpur mandi follows a similar move in Nashik, Maharashtra, where the crisis was averted yesterday following intervention by the local authorities.

The traders are demanding immediate stop to income tax raids and surveys while denying any hoarding in the market.

"We are not responsible for shortages because of which prices are going up. We are neither hoarding nor profiteering," Tomato and Onion Merchants' Association in Azadpur mandi  General Secretary Rajendra Sharma said.

Pak trucks turn back from India border

With Pakistan showing no signs of lifting a ban on onion exports, around 300 trucks bound for India have turned back from the border and are likely to offload the produce in the retail markets of their own country, traders said on Tuesday.

"Pakistan-based vegetable exporters will sell onions, which were contracted before the ban was imposed, in the local market as it (onions) is a perishable commodity and they
(traders) cannot hold it for long," Amritsar-based vegetable trader Anil Mehra said on Tuesday.