A vegetable vendor at Sakchi market on Friday.
Picture by Bhola Prasad
The budget blaster bulb is back in action.
Having stayed low for a couple of weeks, the politically sensitive onion is once again sprinting up the price ladder across Jharkhand, particularly in Jamshedpur where it is selling at Rs 70 a kilo in the retail market against Rs 35 per kg last month.
Coal town Dhanbad too is buying the key kitchen ingredient for Rs 60-70 in wholesale and retail markets. The price blow isn’t as heavy in capital Ranchi, with onions selling for Rs 42-50 a kilo in Daily Market, which houses both wholesalers and retailers.
While the Centre on Friday said that the onion did not qualify as an item under the Essential Commodities Act because prices would settle in a week’s time, traders in Jamshedpur believe the tear-jerker crop would cross the Rs 80 mark and stay out of reach till October-end.
“Onion production in Nasik was badly hit this time. Farmers themselves are selling at a very high rate. How can you expect a price buffer so soon?” said Shiv Sagar Sahu, a wholesaler at Bistupur market. He pointed out that the rate would plunge only after fresh stocks arrive by the end of next month.
Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tiwari, however, sounded bullish. “There is a seasonal movement in onion prices. Expectations are that prices will settle down in a week or so on improved supplies,” he said.
The Centre has also restricted exports by raising minimum price to USD 900 a tonne from USD 650. It has permitted import of onions to boost local supplies. Advisories have been issued to states to crack down on hoarders and speculators responsible for keeping onion prices artificially high.
But, Sahu pointed out how the price rise had hit supplies in Jamshedpur. “Usually, traders procure onions at Rs 65 a kilo to sell them for Rs 70 in the retail market. But, customers are few and, hence, procurement too. So, a let-up in rates will take time.”
Ashok Kumar Singh, secretary of Parsudih-based Krishi Bazar Samiti, agreed. “Under normal circumstances eight loaded trucks rolled into the steel city every day. Now, there are only two,” he said.
Sambhu Prasad, an onion vendor at Sakchi market, rued bad business. “Till April, I sold four packets of onion, weighing two quintals, every day. For a month now, one packet is going out in four days. People are just not buying,” he said.
Schoolteacher Shankar Lal Sharma agreed. “We have had to squeeze our budget. My wife is rustling up recipes that do not require onions,” he said.
Rupendra Sinha, a life insurance agent from Kadma, recalled good ol’ days when the tasty bulb was available dirt cheap. “Onions sold at Rs 15 a kilo in April-May. We relished every meal. Now, it is beyond our reach. God knows for how long,” he said.
Eateries are on austerity drive too. In most hotels and restaurants, onion rings have done the vanishing act from salads. “The price rise has surpassed previous records. We have little choice,” said Hari Prasad Singh, the owner of a Sakchi restaurant.