Monday, October 10, 2011

Teary tale of onion trade

By Devinder Sharma
21 September, 2011

The recent ban on onion exports resulted in an aggressive lobbying to revoke the ban as demanded by the wholesale traders. The way Chief Ministers and cabinet ministers joined hands against the export ban, it is obvious that onions have become important political tool.

Concerned by the rising retail prices of onions, government banned its export on September 9 but within 11 days of imposing the ban, the powerful traders lobby forced the government to lift the ban. Succumbing to pressure from the big traders, who normally cry hoarse in the name of farmers, the speed at which the onion trade made the government to bend backwards is a pointer to the monumental failure to curb food inflation.

For over 4 years now, ever since food inflation has hit the roof, I haven’t seen so much of political activity as I have observed in the last few days. Triggered by protest by Nasik onion traders, who had refused to partake in daily auction to demonstrate their anger against the sudden imposition of exports ban, the state NCP chief Madhukar Pichad made appeals to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan too deputed his Agriculture Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-patil and some of his colleagues to meet Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and other concerned ministers.

According to news reports, Prithviraj Chavan had himself lobbied with Pranab Mukherjee and Anand Sharma seeking an immediate withdrawal of the ban on onion exports. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar too had thrown his weight behind the agitating traders and had met Food Minister K V Thomas to impress upon him the need to allow onion exports. He forcefully argued in favour of onion exports at the meeting of the empowered Group of Minister (eGoM). Knowing the influence Sharad Pawar wields in UPA II, it was expected that the government would give in.

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