New Delhi: The onions India imported between November and January this year to tackle soaring prices of the kitchen staple are now being sold for as little as Rs 6/kg, ThePrint has learnt.
The primary reason, according to the minutes of a government panel meeting, is that the supplies have been rotting after being rejected by states and distributing agency Safal of Mother Dairy.
Onion prices rose to as much as Rs 100/kg in mandis last year due to a 30-40 per cent dip in production that was largely attributed to excess monsoon rainfall in Maharashtra and Karnataka, the two main onion-growing states.
However, the imports arrived late, and prices have since normalised in light of increased availability of local varieties, with the central government even lifting its export restrictions on onions with effect from 15 March.
As a result, there are few takers for over 90 per cent of the 33,600 metric tonnes of imported onions — purchased at Rs 50-58/kg — which threatens to translate into a loss of around Rs 200 crore for the government.
The Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC), a public sector trading company that also deals in agro products, has spent Rs 226 crore on the imports but only sold 3079.5 metric tonnes of onions, worth Rs 17-19 crore, an official in the Union Consumer Affairs Ministry said.
The stocks yet to be disposed of are perishing at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port (JNPT) in Mumbai, sources in the ministry added.
“Most of the imported onions are lying in the open at the Mumbai port and are rapidly rotting due to high humidity,” the aforementioned official said.
“The MMTC held e-auctions for the sale of imported onions on NeML (which provides a trading platform for several commodities) and Agribazaar (an online marketplace) but it also fetched bids as low as Rs 11/kg.”
The imports primarily comprise yellow onions from Turkey.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Andhra Pradesh, which has already procured among the highest stocks of imported onions so far — 893 MT — did exhibit interest in procuring another 1,000 MT of Turkish onions at market rates but returned the stock because it was rotten on arrival.
With their condition deteriorating, and states refusing to procure them because of their “different taste”, the MMTC and the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd (NAFED) were directed to dispose of the onions at prevailing market rates on an “as-is-where-is” basis.
The onions sold at Rs 6/kg were earlier offered to Safal, which rejected them. They were subsequently sold to mandis in Delhi.
The government had also offered the onions to Bangladesh and the Maldives at rates lower than what India paid. While the Maldives did not respond, Bangladesh said it wanted indigenous produce.