New Delhi: There’s been a downswing in India’s diplomatic ties with Turkey but soaring onion prices have now forced the Narendra Modi government to seek relief from Ankara.
The relations between the two countries had deteriorated after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed Pakistan and raised the Kashmir issue at the United Nations in September, saying it should be resolved through “dialogue on the basis of justice, equity, and not through collision”.
India had reacted sharply, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi deferring his visit to Turkey and New Delhi threatening to scrap a $2.3 billion tender granted to Turkey’s Anadolu Shipyard earlier this year to help build five 45,000-tonne support ships.
But concerned by the shooting retail prices of onion, which is presently hovering between Rs 60 and Rs 100 per kg, the Modi government’s Price Stabilisation Fund Management Committee (PSFMC), in a meeting on 22 November, has floated tenders for import of 11,000 metric tonnes (MT) of onion from Turkey, senior government officials familiar with the development told ThePrint.
The PSFMC comes under the Union Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ministry. The 22 November meeting was chaired by Consumer Affairs Secretary Avinash Kumar Srivastava.
“Of the 11,000 MT to be imported from Turkey, 5,500 MT will be red onions, which are predominantly used for consumption in India, while the remaining consignment of 5,500 MT will have yellow onions,” said one of the senior officials mentioned above.
The shipment from Turkey is expected to arrive 7 January.
Besides Turkey, India is also procuring onions from Egypt and The Netherlands. While New Delhi will import 6,090 MT of onion from Egypt, it will also procure 5,000 MT from The Netherlands.
The first batch of 1,160 MT of imported onions coming from Egypt will arrive at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Mumbai, on 12 December.
“It was supposed to arrive on 10 December but now it has been delayed by two days,” said a second government official. “The remaining three consignments from Egypt are expected to arrive on 17, 24 and 31 December respectively.”
Poor response to tenders behind delayed imported onion arrival
According to government officials quoted above, the delayed arrival of imported onions has been mainly due to the poor response to tenders floated by the Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation (MMTC).
The government has engaged MMTC, which primary deals in the import and export of metals and minerals, to procure the onions.
The consumer affairs ministry had written to MMTC on 9 November, directing it to import 1 lakh MT of onions.
Though MMTC floated tenders inviting bids, the response was lukewarm. The first tender was scrapped due to inadequate bids. The MMTC also scrapped its second tender for 20,000 MT that it put out on 8 November. “The shipment from this bid was scrapped as it was very expensive and was expected to arrive only on 3 January 2020,” said an official who did not want to be named.
MMTC had floated a third tender on 14 November with a closing date of November 22. But this was also pushed to 25 November due to lack of multiple bids.
ThePrint had on 26 November reported that the response was not as expected because of the stringent bid condition — that the onion size had to be approved by the PSFMC.
Once the onion shipments arrive, the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED), the co-operative wing of the government, will take over the stock from MMTC and arrange for its fumigation and distribution across states through central, state and cooperative agencies.
“States have already sent their requirement for imported onions,” the second official said.
Among the states, Andhra Pradesh’s requirement is the highest. It has asked for 1,050 MT of onions per week. West Bengal has asked for 300 MT/week, Odisha 100 MT/week and Kerala 40 MT/week. For Delhi, NAFED and Mother Diary have estimated a requirement of 700 MT/week.