Potatoes and onions on sale at a market in Bhubaneswar
Bhubaneswar, June 18: Odisha is woefully short in the production of potato and onion, two major essential items in the daily menu. By the government’s own admission, the state depends on other states to meet 80 per cent of its potato and 60 to 70 per cent of its onion demand.
Last year, the state had faced a severe shortage with potato selling at Rs 60 a kg and onion at Rs 80 a kg in the retail market. This year, too, the price of potato is showing a steady rise. Within a few days, potato price has jumped from Rs 16 to Rs 20. Onion price has gone up from Rs 18 to Rs 24 a kg this month and this has forced consumers to press the panic button. The reason is crop loss in Nasik, from where the state procures the bulk of its onion supply.
The fall in onion production yesterday prompted the Centre to impose a minimum export price of $300 per tonne to curb exports. Now, the Naveen Patnaik government is under attack for its failure to arrest the shortage by initiating timely measures.
“This government has failed to raise onion and potato production in the past 14 years, nor has it developed agri-infrastructure such as cold storages to make it lucrative for farmers to go for production,” senior Congress leader Naba Kishore Das today told the Assembly.
His party colleague, Chiranjib Biswal, said that more than 70 per cent cold storages were lying defunct in the state.
The state produced 4.32 lakh metric tonnes of onion last year. “We are producing enough onion to meet the demand. However, the farmers are forced to sell the produce at a throw away price in absence of cold storage facilities. So, we have to procure onion from outside to meet the demand,” said an official of the horticulture department requesting anonymity.
However, the state falls short in potato production. It produces barely two lakh metric tonnes of potato a year against its demand of nine lakh tonnes. Incidentally in the 90s, the state used to supply potato to the neighbouring states. Farmers lost interest due to absence of cold storages and lack of proper marketing.
A helpless food supplies and consumer welfare minister Sanjay Das Burma admitted in the House: “We procure potato from other states, especially from Bengal to meet 80 per cent of the state’s demand. Onion is brought from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to meet 60 to 70 per cent of our demand.”
“In April, we had issued a directive to the district collectors to keep a close watch on the price situation and prevent traders from hoarding the commodities,” said the minister.
Agriculture minister Pradeep Maharathy, who is a farmer, admitted scarcity in potato and onion production. “The problem can be solved to a great extent if we have a chain of cold storages in the coming days. In a few days, we will be opening a cold storage at Titilagarh in Balangir,” he said.
The Opposition leaders further criticised the government’s decision to effect a hike in VAT on petrol and diesel. “This will have a cascading effect and trigger further price rise of essential commodities, including potato and onion,” said an Opposition leader.
Das Burma said several states were collecting VAT at the rate of 20 per cent and above. Besides, the state government had to hike VAT on petrol and diesel to mobilise resources for funding various welfare schemes. He also reasoned that petroleum price was governed by the international market.
Describing the VAT hike as a “post-poll gift” of Naveen, BJP leader Basant Kumar Panda demanded its immediate rollback.
“The state government could have taken steps to realise outstanding tax revenue of Rs 51,000 crore, instead of going for VAT hike, which will further enhance the burden on the common man,” said Congress leader Prafulla Majhi.