PM steps in as onion prices spiral (Roundup)

December 21st, 2010 - 10:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Dec 21 (IANS) With onion prices spiralling to Rs.70-80 a kg, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday demanded immediate action to deal with the crisis, but Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar warned it would take two-three weeks for the prices to fall.As truckloads of onions began arriving from Pakistan through the Attari-Wagah land border, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee termed the price rise as “unfortunate” and blamed the situation on a demand-supply gap.

Also Tuesday, a day after Commerce Minister Anand Sharma blamed hoarders, the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED) announced it was taking steps to control the situation.

In Delhi, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit got into the act, saying wholesale markets would be raided to unearth hoarded stocks.

The Bharatiya Janata Party attributed the rising prices to the “wrong economic policies and bad governance” while the Communist Party of India said the government was “helpless against market forces”.

The worst hit was the common man — all across India.

Chennai homemaker Lathifunisa Khaliq best summed it up: “We are more affected than many others by the high onion prices as we use at least two kg a day.”

She said her daily budget for vegetables had doubled to Rs.300 in two months.

Official sources said the Prime Minister’s Office had written to the departments of agriculture and consumer affairs asking them to monitor the price levels daily and take steps to bring down the prices.

The “prime minister desires that all necessary steps to deal with extraordinary price rise and to bring the prices down to affordable levels are expeditiously taken”, the letter said.

Pawar blamed the crisis on heavy rains which he said had destroyed crops, particularly in Maharashtra, his home state. “In such a situation, it may take two to three weeks for the situation to get normal.”

“The ban on (onion) export may make the situation better in some days,” he told reporters here.

NAFED, however, was optimistic.

“The prices are already coming down. It seems like it was some freak phenomena,” NAFED managing director Sanjeev Chopra said. “We have suspended exports till Jan 15. If the situation becomes better, we may revise it.”

Finance Minister Mukherjee also promised action.

“It is very unfortunate that onion prices have risen very high… Now there is a mismatch between supply from mandi to the consumer point. Those bottlenecks have to be removed.”

Relief was on the horizon as Amritsar-based importers placed orders for nearly 1,000 tonnes of onions from Pakistan.

At least 30 truckloads arrived promptly Tuesday, and the entire contracted amount was likely to be received in one week.

“I have ordered over 500 tonnes of onions from Pakistan. The stock will reach India in three days. I got six trucks today,” importer Rajdeep Uppal of Narain Exports and Imports told IANS in Amritsar.

“The onions will be transported to markets in Amritsar, Delhi, Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Jalandhar and then to other places,” trader Rup Lal said.

Traders and importers said that up to 50 truckloads of onions could come from Pakistan each day in the next few days.

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