India’s onion crisis leading to a geostrategic shift with neighbouring countries

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The Narendra Modi government, apart from failing to maintain law and order in the country, is also failing to secure healthy relations with neighbouring countries. The general Indian populace is being led on to a path of misery and desolation as the prices soar to the sky. The pulses were already out of the reach for the under-privileged section of the society and now, the onion prices have made a common Indian unable to include onions in his daily diet.

The price of onions went as high as Rs. 100 per kg in some states while even more than that in some others. Amidst soaring demands and shortage of onions across many states, the government of India imported 18,000 metric tonnes of onions to make up for the scarcity though the demand was of 36,000 metric tonnes. The onions were imported from countries like Egypt, Turkey and Afghanistan to regulate supply and check prices for the poor people to be able to afford it. The plan backfired badly as States said that by the time imported onions arrived, onion prices in the domestic market had started softening in expectation of a healthy late kharif harvest. Out of the 18,000 metric tonnes already imported, only 3000 metric tonnes were picked up by the Indian States while the rest 15000 metric tonnes are still resting at Mumbai JNPT port, waiting for the buyers.

Maharashtra, Assam, Haryana, Karnataka and Odisha have withdrawn their demand of 10,000 MT, 3,000 MT, 3,480 MT, 250 MT and 100 MT of imported onion, respectively, Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan confirmed earlier this month. As the Indian States retracted their demands, Indian government started pressurizing Bangladesh to buy the unwanted excess onions that are running a risk of rotting and decaying.

At a meeting held Monday, the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry made an offer to acting Bangladesh High Commissioner Rokebul Haque to buy the onion stock that India had imported for domestic consumption, said a senior government official familiar with the matter. And while India imported most of the stock at around $600-700 per MT, the Modi government is offering it to Bangladesh at $550-$580 per MT.

However, Bangladesh argued during the meeting that it already has imports of Chinese onion in the pipeline through Nepal, so India should offer some incentives like free transportation. The development has come nearly three months after Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina publicly aired her displeasure about the Modi government’s move to stop export of onions to her country during her four-day visit to India.

“I wish you had informed us before suddenly putting a halt in the export of onions. I had to tell my cook I have no other option but to have my food without onions. I would request India to please inform us beforehand while taking such an action. After all, we are neighbours,” she added.

Bangladesh is likely to decline India’s repeated pleas to jump start onion exports as the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh currently has enough stock of it and the new variety of the tuber is expected to reach domestic market soon.

In Nepal, where Indian onions dominate the market, the export ban has signalled a geostrategic shift: Nepal is now buying onions from China, something the Communist Party of Nepal leader and Prime Minister KP Oli is only too happy to endorse. Trucks laden with Chinese onions are trundling across the border through Tatopani and Rasuwa, the two trade gateways, travelling nearly 3,500 km through arduous conditions and extremely cold weather to meet Nepalese demand. Nepalese bhattis (as their dhabas are called) now have a specially curated ‘Modi menu’ that has (mostly) onion-free vegetables.

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