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Onion farmers & traders cry foul over essential-commodity tag

Lasalgaon (Nashik), Aug 26 (Agencies): Farmers and traders here have questioned the government’s July 2 decision to bring onions under the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) without declaring a minimum support price or giving concessions on railway freight.

“To protect the interest of farmers, the government should have declared MSP for onion as soon as it was included under the Essential Commodities Act,” Lasalgaon Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Chairman Nanasaheb Patil told reporters here over the weekend.

Lasalgaon is India’s largest onion wholesale market.

Patil asked how the government had brought onions under the Act since the Act prohibits storage of any commodity. But onions have to be stored for off-season sales there is no harvest during March through September, but the vegetable is consumed round the year.

”If onion storage is restricted, it will be very difficult to supply it during the off-season, resulting in soaring prices,” Patil said.

Both in terms of area and yield, Maharashtra is the largest onion producing state, followed by Karnataka.

Under the Act, the Centre should also provide concessions on rail freight, he said.

However, the government has not declared any such concessions and instead increased the rail freight by six per cent, Patil said.

Further, Patil said, under the Act the government can procure the commodity, if necessary, at any cost from farmers, which will hurt them as they are hardly making any profit.

Grower B.S. Jadhav said uncertain weather and an increase in costs of inputs such as fertilisers, weedicides, fungicides and plant nutrients has already squeezed the profitability of farmers.

“So, if the government asks for onion supply at any cost, how will we manage?” Jadhav asked.

If the government does not take any action, he said, farmers would be forced to stop growing onions.

Meanwhile, farmers are also worried by talk of scrapping of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) system, as it will push them to sell their produce directly to consumers or any market they want without being tied down to the traditional middlemen at the designated farm markets.

”We also want to support it. However, the government should set up an alternative process for distribution. Moreover, onions supplied to APMCs are in bulk and we will not be able to take such huge quantity to district markets and sell directly. It is not practical. Scrapping the APMCs will create a mess,” said another onion grower, Sachin Pardeshi.

Besides, APMCs also keep records and set benchmark prices, he added.

Onion trader Sandeep Gaikwad also picked holes in the government policy of fixing the minimum export price (MEP) for the produce, saying this is not justified as exports generate huge foreign exchange and have gone up 300 per cent since the last decade.

He pointed out that onion prices have no role in inflation as the bulb's weightage in food inflation is paltry 0.18 per cent.