Cops buy onions from a mobile van at Shyambazar on Thursday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Shyambazar, 10am. Two hundred people were in a queue near the busy five-point intersection — not to catch a bus but to buy half a kilo of subsidised onions for Rs 18.
The government’s mobile onion store was a bigger hit than the bus strike on Thursday, and nobody shed a tear over that.
With onion selling at Rs 70 a kg in the retail market, the subsidised rate offered by the government since August 14 had traffic cops standing in a file with homemakers, elderly citizens and even school students to lay their hands on the 500-gram quota.
An individual is allowed to buy only half a kilo.
When the price of onions started to spiral in July-August, the government’s food processing industries and horticulture department started selling onions in 21 markets in Calcutta and Howrah from vans.
“We are procuring around 45,000kg of onions every day from Ranihati and Kharagpur. Other than the 21 markets, onions are being sold from outlets at Writers’ Buildings, Mayukh Bhavan in Salt Lake, Calcutta High Court and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation,” said Kamal Dey, a member of the task force formed by the chief minister.
The bulbous veggie has been offsetting the kitchen budget of homemakers like Gargi Sengupta. “Onions are literally making me cry… at least their price is,” the Salt Lake resident said.
“The vegetable is drifting beyond reach,” Sengupta said and rued how she has had to ration onions from meals over past two weeks.
Calcutta and its adjoining areas consume around 5lakh kg of onions every day and the state sources its onions from Maharashtra and south India.
Wholesalers said a supply shortfall of around 60 per cent has triggered the price spiral. “Nasik farmers had poor harvests for two seasons… because of a dry spell the first time and excessive rain later. The shortfall has hit us all,” wholesaler Samiran Saha said.
Sources said the prices might come down once the new crop reaches the markets around Diwali.
No doubt people know their onions and which is why the vehicle carrying bundles of onions at the Shyambazar market attracts more shoppers than a sari sale.
More than 100 people were standing in a queue on Thursday even before the vehicle arrived.
“For the past month, thousands in the area are buying onions from the truck. The market rate has leapt from Rs 45 a kg to Rs 70, but government delivered on its promise,” said Gauranga Pal, a retired PWD official from Paikpara in north Calcutta.