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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: With the consumers in Odisha becoming onion-eyed, and when the Odisha Food & Consumer Welfare department is seemingly seen taking out an onion blaming the rise to humble monsoon rains elsewhere, a little peeling of the onion revealed how traders in the State are raking in the bucks by hoarding onions.

Sample the arrival of onions to Bhubaneswar market since January this year. While the total arrival of onions in January 2019 was 6,270 metric tonnes (MT), it dwindled to 5000 MT in April 2019 and dwindled further to 4925 MT in July. And the average retail prices hovered from Rs 16/Kg in January to Rs 24/Kg in July.

But in an unusual trend the total onion arrivals in the month of August surprisingly touched 26,355 MT, and the retail prices instead of easing, if one goes by the supply-demand market dynamics, shot up to touch around Rs 28/Kg. The big thing here is the arrivals in August last year had been around 5000-6000 MT only. So, what is the need for such rush in arrivals?

In September, the arrivals of this bulb vegetable dipped to around 1500 MT and the retail prices are now ruling at Rs 50/Kg. In September last year, Bhubaneswar recorded arrival of around 5,850MT onion.

As per a senior market intelligence official in the State Civil Supplies department, traders in the State have a knowhow of the likely spike in onion prices in the coming months and they had procured more onions during August at a cheaper price in order to hoard it and mint more money later.

The moot question is when the consumption hovered at around 5000 - 6000 MT per month in the City, where the extra 20,000MT of onions have gone, the senior official questioned and added that they are being hoarded as the shelf life of onion is around 4-6 months in autumn and winter months.

It seems not an instance limited to the Capital city. There is a pattern across the State as reports of abrupt rise in prices of the bulb are pouring in from almost all districts. While the average wholesale prices of the onion in the State are now hovering at around Rs 33/Kg, the retail prices ranged between Rs 36-50/Kg.

How the profiteering dynamics of traders in Odisha are making the consumers onion-eyed is evident from the fact that the whole sale prices of onion in all districts have not witnessed any perceptible appreciation.

As per the data available with APMCs (Agricultural Produce marketing Committees), the wholesale price of onion in Keonjhar has, infact, crashed to Rs 1572 per quintal vis-a-vis of Rs 1647/q in September 2018. The highest wholesale price of onion in the State is quoted at Rs 4000/q in Kalahandi and Bolangir. Notably, Bolangir and Kalahandi are the major onion producing districts in Odisha.

The relevant fact here is Odisha government way back in 2009-10 had decided to constitute a price monitoring committee headed by Chief Secretary, and had mandated the committee to analyse and evaluate the supply-demand of specific vegetables like onion, potato, tomato and dals in the State.

Alas, the reality is the much-touted price monitoring committee has remained on paper only and the traders tweak the prices of such essential commodities at their will, leaving consumers high and dry in Odisha.

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