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Onion key to poll fate

Bhubaneswar, Feb. 11: With people in Orissa paying between Rs 20 and Rs 25 for a kilogram of onion, political observers feel the price rise will have an adverse effect on the outcome of the elections, which start on Tuesday.

The price of onions, they recalled, was a major issue in the 1980 and 1996 elections.

Orissa, which consumes around 2.3 lakh tonnes of onion annually, has a shortfall of around 1 lakh tonne. Though the state produces around 2.4 lakh tonnes a year, around 10 to 15 per cent is not fit for consumption.

The farmers have to sell part of the produce outside Orissa due to poor cold storage facilities. The state depends on supply from Maharashtra (Nashik) and Andhra Pradesh to meet its requirements.

This year, said sources in the government, there has been a steep rise in onion prices in Nashik.

Wholesale traders of Bhubaneswar said they had nothing to do with the escalating cost of onions. “We are helpless, we have to purchase onion at a high price from Nashik and Andhra Pradesh,” said Gyana Jena, a trader.

Reports from the districts said candidates and leaders of the ruling parties faced “unpleasant questions” from voters during their campaign for the panchayat polls.

State BJP president Suresh Pujari blamed the UPA government for the price rise, adding that his party was “distributing copies of a leaflet to highlight the rising cost of essential commodities”.

“The onion price rise will definitely go against the Congress,” he held.

Echoing Pujari, BJD general secretary Narendra Swain said the Centre was responsible for the price rise as it allowed exports at the cost of domestic supply.

State Congress spokesperson Kailash Acharya, however, was not ready to accept the blame and accused wholesalers of hoarding. “Prices will come down immediately if the wholesale godowns in Bhubaneswar are raided,” he said.

Food and consumer welfare secretary R.K. Sharma said the government did not have the power to take action against the traders as onion had been deleted from the list of essential commodities.

Sharma said the Orissa State Civil Supplies Corporation has started selling onions at Rs 14 per kg as a corrective measure. The corporation, he added, will procure onions from Nashik and Andhra Pradesh as well with “some stock” arriving on Monday.

  for price chart

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