Mumbai, April 2: Round, reddish missiles travelling at great speed would hardly be expected to unnerve Sharad Pawar the cricket boss.
But bombarded with onions at a farmers’ meeting, Pawar the agriculture minister decided to beat a quick retreat.
The Nationalist Congress Party was today left with a red face at its bastion of Devla in Nashik, where it had organised the rally at a cooperative sugar mill in Vithewadi village.
Onion prices have been in a free fall ' from an estimated Rs 500 a quintal to Rs 150 ' and farmers are increasingly frustrated by the government’s failure to announce a support price.
Such was the mood at the meeting when Pawar began explaining his plan to market Nashik’s onion produce in a way that would fetch better prices in the world market.
He did not say a word on what the farmers most wanted to hear: a Rs 800-a-quintal support price.
Soon, the vegetable that had seven years ago given the BJP a bloody nose was flying in from the direction of a small group of farmers.
No one was hit or injured and the police quickly brought the crowd under control. But Pawar did not linger.
The meeting, however, continued after he left with a host of NCP luminaries addressing the farmers. On the dais were deputy chief minister R.R. Patil, marketing minister Harshvardhan Patil, PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal, state agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat and former BJP minister Daulatrao Aher, who recently joined the NCP.
The police later rounded up 15 people.
The onion has proved to be one of the most politically sensitive commodities in the country, costing the BJP several states in the November 1998 Assembly elections when the vegetable had for a period disappeared from the market.
The culling of over 2.10 lakh chickens in six villages of bird flu-hit Jalgaon would be over by tonight, district officials said.
“Till last night, the rapid response teams had culled an estimated two lakh birds. So we hope to complete the rest of the culling by tonight and begin mopping-up and sanitisation operations,” Jalgaon district collector Vijay Singhal said.
He added that the positive tests that had prompted the second round of culling could not be read as a second outbreak of the bird flu.
“The seven samples (of the second batch) that tested positive for avian flu strains had been collected on March 15, a day after the first outbreak was reported,” he said.
The positive samples came from the villages of Palora, Bhadgaon and Erandol -- all of them located off the highway. “This means the flu spread along the Jalgaon-Dhule highway,” Singhal said.
State animal husbandry commissioner Bijay Kumar, camping in Jalgaon since March 29, said the state administration had devised a strategy to prevent future outbreaks.
“We have sent 1,000 samples from 100 villages all over Jalgaon to Bhopal. The idea is to scan the whole district and find out if there are any more infected pockets,” Kumar said.