The onion has once again made common people cry and loomed a big problem before the Central government as well. The cost of onion which was Rs 25-30 per kg in the market a week earlier, has gone up to Rs 70-80/ Kg recently. Although a meal can be taken without onion, it has its significant role in making food delicious. If the importance of onion in food and its medicinal effect are kept aside, the Indian cooking, however, cannot do away with it. Although onion is not the main crop and it is not grown in every part of the country, it is indispensible for people across the social spectrum. Onion is politically a sensitive crop. A few years ago, only the increased prices of onion became an issue which threw the BJP government out of power. The onion has become political issue on several occasions, but Union Ministry for Agriculture and Food and Civil Supplies, which is keeping a tab on the supply of veggies and grains, looks inactive despite the ministry coming under none other than Sharad Pawar whose home state Maharashtra produces onions on large-scale. It is worth mentioning that Pawar has also got the portfolio of Agriculture Ministry. This is not the first time that Pawar has failed to deliver the duties. He has shown failure in controlling the price of sugar and pulses.

It is surprising that when media flashed the news of unprecedented price hike of onion, Prime Minister expressed his shock as to how did it happen? Later, he himself asked Sharad Pawar the same question. It means that the supply of food items and controlling their prices are not in the agenda of the government. It is paradox that this government claims to be the most pro-people. Nevertheless this is an insensitive conduct of the government that in the country where common people have to put in back-breaking effort to manage two-square meals, they get mere assurances from the ruling party despite the soaring prices. The way the onion prices started touching sky overnight, indicates that something is fishy. Even as the government was aware of the fact that 20-30 percent of the onion crops were destroyed in Nasik, onions were being exported hugely prior to its price hike. The moot point is how do the onions being available in the main market at Rs 20-30 per kg go dearer costing Rs 70-80 per kg? Why is the government incapable of controlling this profiteering? Why didn’t it make such an arrangement to check the hoarding of fruits-veggies and foodgrains? Since the onion prices increased sharply across the nation, it is clearly indicating that there is a network of profiteers that has a nexus with hoarders. It is not a hyperbole that such elements get a political patronage at one stage or the other.         

It is disappointing that during the regime of UPA government, which advocates for common people, the issue of price hike has always loomed large. The more government claims to bridle soaring price, the more it looks uncontroable. The food inflation has never gone below double digits except for four-six weeks in this fiscal year. Now it has gone above 12 percent and it is suspected that the same scenario will continue in future. This is also a fact once the prices of consumer food products go up, they never roll back. The country would like to know why the food inflation is uncontrollable despite better monsoon and good crops. The country also wants to know, when the Agriculture and Food Minister was familiar about the damage of onion crops in Nasik owing to heavy rains, why did he fail to take necessary steps in this regard? What is the reason that the export of onion was stopped only when it was sold at double price? Although onions are being imported from Pakistan, it is difficult to say that the prices will immediately come down to normalcy. Now along with onion the prices of other fruits-veggies also look northward. Tomato is following the onion way.           

Undoubtedly, it cannot be said that farmers get benefit of the increased prices of fruit-veggies. The reality is that there is a big gap between price which farmers get for their produce and the price at which consumers buy them. Sometimes this difference increases by 80-200 percent. In no way does the expenditure of transporting the farm produces trigger this difference. It is obvious that there must be some malafide practice behind this difference. The malafide practice is in vogue whereas the government and political parties are shedding their tears on the plight of farmers. It is right that the government has increased minimum support price of some crops, but it has failed to provide special benefit to farmers.

It is now necessary that the food and supply portfolio should be entrusted with some prudent and visionary person. Besides, there is also a need of complete change in the storage and supply system of foodgrains and fruit-veggies as well as caring about farmers because they hardly produce the quantum which can easily mete out the nation’s demand. Now it is assumed that we will have to farm overseas to meet our requirements. A group of ministers have even supported it. It is not difficult to understand that the Central government is not aware of the present scenario of the agriculture, but it is surprising that why the government is not resorting to solid efforts to change the methods of farming. The lack of such efforts is also found in the system of storage and supply of foodgrains as well. This is the reason tones of foodgrains perish in the government godowns every year which happened this year also.  There is no sense of being agriculture-dominated economy where political parties on one hand put a false picture before farmers and on the other ignore them. This posture of political parties is not only misleading to farmers but putting food security of the country at stake also.              

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on December 26, 2010 translated by the English Editorial)