No onion, no tears
Onion is associated with tears. But it brings tears when it is chopped or sliced. But what we see now is ‘no onion’ and ‘no tears’ at home. To be more precise the rising cost of onion brings tears in the eyes of the home-maker. Whether or there is or isn’t onion at home. ‘No onion’ gives ‘no taste’ to carry home recipes in middle class homes and nothing to taste rice or ‘roti’ with about a poor man’s home. The vast majority of populations of the country, perhaps 90 percentages or above are tears with or without onion at home. A consumer finds onions in abundance at wholesale or retail outlets, but shudders to visit the shops at his daily budget is disturbed.
Purchasing power of consumers:
Purchasing one kilogram or half kilogram of onion means cutting on other vegetables for a middle class family; but for a poorer class his butter is gone as bread waits for banishment. Onion and salt constitute a poor man’s butter or recipe, but salt at 14 rupees a kilogram is still affordable, but onion in rupees with 75 not. The cost of onion as an essential item, petrol as a comfort item and beer as a luxury item is in the same rate bracket of 75 rupees per kilogram. Never in India, the above three items were available at the same cost, but now they are. The plight of the common man is unknown and untold and his household is in disarray.
Of course, inflation is not confined to onion alone. The past few years have seen a gradual rise in the price of all vegetables and consumable items. Milk, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables have been giving us a painful experience owing to the incessant rise of prices. The cost of food grains is sky-rocketing. The crocodile tears shed by the leaders and the government and all their assurances have meant nothing as the plight of people is better forgotten than told. No concrete, effective steps are in the offering. The government has lost all its control over the sale and supply and distribution of food grains. The break-less and rake-less monopoly market system has snatched away the balanced diet of consumer’s dish. The onion is fresh addition to this long list of vanishing items.
We have seen temporary shortages and scarcities in the past owing to flood or famine or other natural calamities. But rising costs year after year with consistent increase in the price of commodities reveal that there is something somewhere which drives the country to a situation of abundant availability without proper purchasing powers with the consumers whose bagful of currency notes is not going to fetch him a bagful of food grains. Year after year, the country has been creating new records in food grain production with more agro-scientific methods of cultivation. The ordinary man fails to understand as to why there is price escalation despite our farmers giving us bountiful of agricultural produces.
A shade more than one crore ton of onion is the universal requirement of our country every year. Our country has exceeded the requirement target every time during the past four years with 1.20, 1.50, 1.50 and 1.70 crore tons of onion production in 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 respectively. Excessive production of onion has given a boost to our export earnings from Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, etc. So, scarcity is not a factor, but mismanagement and monopoly certainly are. On one side, a farmer makes a distressed sale of onion at rupees six to ten a kilogram and the other the market price is rupees 70 pluses. This is perplexing and worrisome.
Storage problems and hoarding of traders:
Natural calamities and excessive rainfall have reduced onion production by 4 percentages to 4.5 percentages this year. This justifies a marginal increase up to 20 percentages to 25 percentages during monsoon, but it hardly justifies five to six times of increase in cost. This makes us to believe that the crisis is man-made. This is a conspiracy against consumers on behalf of traders and hoarders to garner bulging profits with artificial scarcity and clamor. They are looting the farmers and consumers alike. The two-fold problem experienced in the country is in the matter of storage problem and hoarding of traders. Of all the onions produced in the country, 60 percentages are produced in the rabi season and the rest of kharif season. The kharif onion is rain fed and its market availability is in September-October of the year. Its storage period is short and for this these onions are kept in cold storage.
Lack of adequate cold-storage facility in onion-producing area destroys the product. Seeing the plight of farmers, businessmen and traders exploit them with purchases at a very low price and keep the purchases in frozen storage, creating an artificial scarcity in the market. The rabi-onion comes to the market during January-February and the intervening period of two-three months is dominated by hoarders and traders who sell the cold-storage onions at exorbitant costs. With business tycoons like Ambani’s, Spencer’s, Big Bazaar, Reliance Fresh entering the food market, the vanishing act of consumable items has become complete. These malls hoard the produces in their godowns, and cold storages and control the market as never before. In the name of the regulated market, they have commercialized the agricultural produces, the cost of which has gone up since their entry into the arena. These big companies are responsible for escalating costs of commodities in a big way.
Ultimately, the solution to this problem is a problem itself. The government can hardly control the big houses as it is itself under their control. Sooner or later, this monopoly has to end so as to put a curtain on this plight of the customers. A conducive situation and environment should be created by the government to facilitate the farmers to save their produces to the government directly at affordable support prices. More and more of warehouses and cold storages should be should be set up by government, so that farmers can keep their produces at ‘no cost’ or ‘nominal-cost’. An efficient public distribution system with ease the lives of the consumers an availability coupled with fair price will encourage farmers to boost productivity. Only then, there will be ‘onion and onion tears’ and no ‘no-onion’ tears.
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