The Mamata Banerjee government aims to wipe the tears being shed over the spike in onion price with half a kilo for every consumer at half the highest market price.
The state government on Wednesday announced six temporary outlets, one each in the major markets, where the vegetable would be made available at Rs 35 a kilo.
The catch in the subsidy strategy — last employed when chicken and fish had become costlier — is that the maximum quantity you can buy from a government outlet at a time is 500gm. For any extra onions that your curry might need, be prepared to travel to another among the six temporary outlets or shell out the current retail price of Rs 60-70 a kilo.
A source said selling subsidised onion was a face-saver for the government, which has been sitting on a 2010 proposal from the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation Of India (Nafed) to ensure smooth supply of the staple of almost every kitchen.
“Nafed had sent a proposal for onion storage in its specialised stores in Nasik when the crop is available and transport the stock to Bengal during the lean season. But the government didn’t respond,” said an official of the agricultural marketing department.
The state government has a task force to keep tabs on prices of vegetables and other essential items, but there is no long-term strategy to contain seasonal spikes.
Bijender Singh, chairman of Nafed, said the Centre had asked the agency to explore the option of importing onion to tackle the shortage in some states.
“Going by records available with us, there is no crop failure. Prices are going to stabilise in another two weeks as the new crop will hit the markets soon,” he predicted.
Singh said the periodic increase in onion price was avoidable. “In 2010, when the price of onion rose to Rs 100 a kilo, we wrote to all states to use our facilities in Nasik to store the item during the peak season and ship the stock during the crisis. But no state, including Bengal, responded.”
For Calcuttans not living anywhere near Shyambazar, Maniktala, Lake Town, Kalighat, Lansdowne and Gariahat markets, there will be an additional transport cost involved in procuring the 500gm of onion at half price that Mamata is offering as relief.
“The move is a good one but what about people like us who live in other parts of the city?” said Debjani Basu, a homemaker living in Salt Lake.
Nobody in the agriculture department would make an official comment on a subject as “sensitive” as the increase in the price of an essential commodity, more so because the chief minister herself monitors that.
It isn’t unusual for the price of onion to rise between July and September, when production is low. When that happens, Bengal’s problem is magnified because it is already an onion-deficient state, producing only about 2.5 lakh tonnes against an annual consumption of 10 lakh tonnes.
Sources at Writers’ Buildings said Nafed’s storage proposal had reached the state during the last lap of Left rule. But agriculture marketing minister Arup Roy said he was unaware of any such proposal.
Agriculture scientists said the state’s potential to increase its onion produce had never been exploited.
“A team of researchers from IIT Kharagpur recently proved that onion can be cultivated in the sloping areas of Bankura. This year, onion was grown across 1,500 bighas near the Susunia hills in Bankura, earlier considered barren land,” an official said.
Going by the research findings, officials said onion could also be produced in some hilly areas of Purulia and parts of West Midnapore where the soil content and weather are similar.