Citizens' Issues
Onion prices moving up again

The huge variation in the wholesale market and end-user price of onions is due to hoarding and involvement of multiple intermediaries who make a fast buck in each transaction. The poor farmer gets next to nothing for his toil

It is an annual feature in our country, when the aam aadmi cries foul over expensive onions in the market. The prices of popular and essential items in the kitchen, like potatoes or onions, keep rising and after a hue and cry, the government either stops exports or fixes a higher export floor price, or as a last resort, arranges for token imports from China and Pakistan to quell the demand. Of course, they do issue a strict warning or two to hoarders, that serious action will be taken against them. This is followed by a small fall in prices and everyone moves on to some other issue, forgetting the onion misery.


Indian production of onions has hovered around 18 million tonnes annually, and usually about 10% of this is exported, mostly to gulf countries where millions of expatriate Indians live and work.


Lasalgaon is Asia's largest onion market where the price of onion recently increased to Rs1,360 per quintal (100 kg), but the market retail price in India at various outlets reached a staggering rate of Rs25 to Rs30 per kilo. Why should this be so?


This huge spread in the wholesale market price is due to hoarding and involvement of multiple intermediaries who make a fast buck in each transaction. The poor farmer gets next to nothing for his toil.


It is time that Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh pays special attention to increasing the production of essentials like onions, potatoes etc in the country, by expanding the area of cultivation and an effort towards getting better yields per acre. It has been reported in the press that while India gets around 15 tonnes per hectare, against the global average of 19 tonnes, there are hybrid varieties that yield as much as 50 tonnes in Korea. This means we need to obtain better and high quality seeds to secure best results on each acre.


Onion seed prices, in the recent past, have also gone up in the market from Rs400 a kilo to Rs3,000 per kilo as reported in the press. It is therefore imperative that NAFED (National Cooperative Agricultural Marketing Federation) and National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation (NHRDF) take extra pains to maintain and distribute quality onion seeds to the farmer at competitive prices. In fact, they should supply high quality seeds at competitive prices for all the items under their purview.


It is now obvious that due to lack of strict watch and control, onion seed prices have shot up to Rs3,000 per kilo against the normal rate of Rs400 per kilo. This kind of racketeering must be stopped at all costs.


The supply situation in the market is getting worse by the day. Sellers of these items themselves are recommending the aam aadmi to buy and stock more because they anticipate that the rate would rise further, and onions may be priced at Rs70 to 80 per kilo by the time the new Rabi crop comes in, around September this year.


Indian onions are popular in the lower gulf countries where millions of Indians and other Asians live. The main exporters to this region in the past have been only India and Pakistan. But when a similar situation was developing, China, USA and Australia also started making inroads into the large Dubai market. Hundreds of trucks carry these back to other neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sultanate of Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. Small Dhows that ply in the Arabian gulf waters (Persian Gulf) also carry the produce to several countries in the region. This entrepot trade is in addition to direct imports by all these countries.


Meanwhile, the Government announced a minimum export price (floor price) of $300 per tonne, which works out to Rs18 per kg, to which other charges of shipping, handling and distribution will be added when it lands in Dubai or any other port. Even then, it will be slightly cheaper or at par with Indian prices, as current in the domestic market! Both Pakistan and China also supply around this price level, though the US and Australian varieties are more expensive and preferred by western expatriates.


It has been reported in the press that the Agriculture Ministry has claimed that horticulture crops expect to have a record output this year - which includes both onions and potatoes - but such news has no bearing on the aam aadmi if he cannot get supplies at lower rates than they are today.


The government must truly crackdown on hoarders and ensure that the situation is brought back to normalcy before it deteriorates further. Failure to control this price rise and inability to increase supplies would be the first major test for the new government.


(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)


Rajdhani Exress derails in Bihar killing four, Railway suspects sabotage

Delhi-Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express derailed at Golden Ganj station near Chhapra early on Wednesday, killing four and injuring eight passengers. The Railways suspect sabotage by Maoists behind the derailment

At least four passengers were killed and eight injured when the Delhi-Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express derailed at Golden Ganj station near Chhapra early on Wednesday, sabotage by Maoists was suspected to be behind this derailment.


According to a spokesperson for the Railways, 12 coaches were derailed in the incident at around 2am. Five coaches, B-1, B-2, B-3, B-4 and the pantry car, overturned in the derailment while seven other coaches, B-5 to B-10 and the power car, got derailed at the station about 75kms from Patna, he said.


"Prima facie, it appears to be a case of sabotage. There was a blast on the track, which could have caused the derailment," Railway Board Chairman Arunendra Kumar told reporters in Delhi.


"Another goods train, 60kms away from the station, also got derailed due to a blast and its 18 wagons got derailed in the accident," Kumar said.


The Maoists had given a bandh call on Wednesday to protest "strong arm" tactics by security forces against "innocent people" in the area, for being suspected Maoist sympathisers.


Railways has ordered an enquiry to be conducted by the Commissioner of Railway Safety, Eastern Circle, to ascertain the cause of derailment.


Railway Minister Sadanand Gowda announced an ex-gratia of Rs2 lakh for the family of each of the deceased, rupees one lakh for grievously injured passengers and Rs20,000 for those with minor injuries.


Suburban rail passengers spared from steep hike

Season ticket or pass holders will now have to pay the amount equal to 15 trips for travelling unlimited times during a month on the suburban rail network. Both first and second class passengers, however, will have to pay the 14.2% increase in fares for the monthly pass

Paying heed to all the vocal protests across the country, especially from Mumbai, the Indian Railways decided to rollback the 100% to 153% hike in monthly season tickets (MSTs). Suburban rail travellers from both the first and second class, however, will have to pay the 14.2% increased fare. Moneylife Foundation, the Samir Zaveri Railway Helpline and the Coalition for Safe Rail Travel also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to roll back the highly unreasonable hike in suburban train fares and season tickets (monthly pass).

The Railways also announced that the recent hike of 14.2% in passenger fares will not apply to second class suburban journeys up to 80 kms, a decision that will give relief to lakhs of travellers mainly in metro cities.

In a revised order, the Railways also said that the fare hike in the unreserved segment shall come into force from 28th June as against 25th June, when the increase was to be originally implemented.

Railways also gave some relief to monthly pass holders by reverting to charging equal to 15 trips per month, instead of 30, which lets the commuters travel unlimited number of times in a month.

These steps will benefit about 1.24 lakh daily suburban commuters across the country. There are over 75 lakh daily passengers on the Mumbai suburban rail network alone.

The revision to the 20th June notification came hours after the members of Parliament (MPs) from ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) belonging to Maharashtra met Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda and demanded a rollback in the hike.

The cash-strapped Indian railways had announced on 20th June that an increase of 14.2% in passenger fares and 6.5% in freight rates, just three weeks before the presentation of the Rail Budget. The revised rates will come into effect from Wednesday.

"There shall be no increase in second class suburban ordinary fare upto 80 kms," said a Railway notification issued today.

This will give relief to lakhs of people travelling daily in metros like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi.

Here are the revised final fares for second class monthly season ticket...


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