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Onion tears for Calcutta

Calcutta, Oct. 15: If there’s an election in Delhi, onion prices go up in Calcutta.

In less than two weeks, the retail price of onion has more than doubled — from Rs 8-10 to Rs 16-20 a kg in Calcutta’s markets. Similar price rises are being reported from Bihar and Punjab.

Heading into elections in November, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit couldn’t care less about what’s happening in other states so long as she doesn’t face a 1998 repeat, when the BJP government was thrown out in popular resentment over an onion crisis and her Congress government took charge.

With preliminary signs of a possible shortage rearing their heads this time, too, the Delhi administration sprang into action and started buying from Nashik, the country’s onion capital, through cooperative consumer societies managed by Mother Dairy.

“As we ran out of the old crop and there was a delay in the production of new crops, shortage was felt in Delhi and some other parts of the country and prices went up,” said Sunil Jain of Puja Onions, one of the biggest onion trading houses of Nashik.

“They (Delhi) controlled the prices by selling at below procurement price,” he added. Onion is sold in Delhi between Rs 12 and 15 a kg, after a temporary crisis pushed prices up to Rs 20-25.

While a steady supply of onion from Nashik kept the prices under control in the capital, shortages swept other markets.

Bengal is completely dependent on supplies from other states. “Bengal has just one variety of onion, Sukhsagar, which is available for just one month,” said Abhay Kumar Yadav, a trader at Posta, which has one of the biggest onion markets in the state.

For the rest of the year, the state sources onions from Nashik — supplier of over 60 per cent of the country’s onion — and the southern states.

“We are not getting supplies from Nashik and banking entirely on the south. The drying up of arrivals from Nashik has pushed up wholesale onion prices from Rs 200-250 to Rs 450-500 per maund (40 kg) in the last two weeks. Last Saturday, the price went up to Rs 650,” said Sanjay Yadav, another trader.

Onion traders rule out a crisis, as in 1998, and expect prices to stabilise by the second week of November as the new crop from Nashik hits the market. “The crop was delayed by around three months in 1998, but this time it’s just a month,” Jain said.

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