Though higher food prices are going to mount problem of common people, the skyrocketing prices of onion is a proof of another failure of the government. The country has not faced such a colossal onion price rise first time. The onion price touched rooftop early this year too. During that time the Central government had cited poor production of onions as the main reason behind it. The higher onion prices indicate that stockists are busy hoarding them despite people feeling pinch. So long as nutritional value is concerned onion is counted low, however it is deemed to be an integral part of Indian cooking. That is why onion price becomes hot political stuff. In the past, the government had to pay price for it. In 1998, Sushma Swaraj government lost the Delhi assembly polls owing to onion price hike.    

The gravity-defying high onion price vividly shows the slackness of Agriculture and Food Ministries in delivering their basic responsibilities. Both the ministries fail to gauge either availability of food items or their consumption. Since they are unable to anticipate possible crisis, they couldn’t make arrangement to keep the price rise under control. Therefore, both the export and import front witness irregularities. It needs to be mentioned that Nationalist Congress Party has had long stint with both the crucial ministries in the UPA government. Earlier, when the prices of food articles were going through rooftop, it was presumed that Sharad Pawar was unable to handle both ministries together. Therefore, Pawar was divested of Food Ministry and the portfolio was given to KV Thomas. But the move didn’t fructify.

The UPA government has no satisfactory answer that why inflation rate has remained above 10 percent for the last five years? Some of the food items continue to get costlier despite their record production. It’s beyond imagination that despite being the second largest onion producer in the world, why India has to face its crunch? Everybody knows that India is an agricultural country and fair chunk of the population depends on it for their livelihood. However, the agricultural sector is being neglected for the last few decades. Hunger deaths and malnutrition are becoming a serious problem as the government is shying away from making pro-farmer policies. Now the government has brought Food Security Act to fight hunger deaths and malnutrition. But our policy makers are unwilling to ponder over the ground reality of agri-produce. It’s bitter truth that India is not increasing its agricultural production inconsonance with its requirements. Adding to woes, poor storage and transportation system made the condition worse. Sharad Pawar himself informed the Parliament that fruits and vegetables worth over Rs 40, 000 crore go waste every year. In a country where such a huge quantity of fruits and vegetables get perished, the government claims of feeding everybody and containing prices become pointless. Not only has the government failed to make proper arrangement for cold chain and storage but the private sector also seems to be unable to give a positive result.

Since both the Centre and states are unable to check hoarding, the prices of entire food articles remain high. Sharad Pawar is claiming that higher prices will give better returns to the farmers for their produce. The statement shows that our policy makers are not aware of the ground reality. They should know about it that artificial price increase will benefit brokers, middlemen and traders. In fact, the farmers are not getting due benefits of their produce as they sell it at throwaway price. The politician-broker nexus is creating hurdle in setting up of retail outlets of food items by foreign companies. Though, politicians are citing reason that the farmers will get exploited due to presence of foreign retailers but truth is something different. Some of the private companies have tried to lower down the prices by setting up cold chain but politicians along with brokers managed to create hurdle in the name farmers’ interest, which forced them to stop their business.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal chipped in with his words that the government is not supposed to sell onions. His statement reflects the insensitiveness of the ruling establishment towards price rise. Truly, the government is not supposed to sell onions but at the same time it has to check hoarding, black marketing as well as keep balance between production and consumption, devise strategy to remove scarcity of food. It’s not the first time that senior ministers shied away from fighting price rise. In 2009, the sugar prices started ruling beyond control as soon as Sharad Pawar announced that sugar production would slip by 70 lakh tonne. Another NCP leader advised the people to consume low quantity of sugar.

It is profound irony that despite being deep crisis, no minister comes forward to take responsibility. It paints gloomy picture that the ministers and mandarins are trying hard to prove that their actions are impeccable. It’s high time, political leaders should realise that the agriculture sector is passing through a tough phase. The fluctuating prices of fruits and vegetables are not a good sign for the country. This is no less than policy paralysis. However, our policy makers are aware of this issue but they do nothing except for expressing concern over it. Most of the politicians are unconcerned over brokers and black marketeers who bring some gains for them. The common people should teach lesson to such politicians in the elections. The move may stop them to make hollow claims and treat farmers mere a vote bank.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on September 22, 2013 translated by the English editorial. The author is the Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)