India traders 'cheating consumers' with onion prices: Minister

By AFP
Published: October 26, 2013
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A pakistani vegetable trader loads bags of onions onto a truck.

A pakistani vegetable trader loads bags of onions onto a truck.

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling Congress government has accused traders of cheating consumers as it struggles to reduce the cost of the vegetable known as the “poor man’s food” ahead of a string of state polls.

The price of onions, a staple in Indian cooking, have gone through the roof in the past few months, quadrupling to as much as INR100 a kilogram ($1.65) in parts of the country and turning the vegetable into an unaffordable luxury for the poor.

Traders are “cheating consumers,” Food Minister KV Thomas said in remarks aired Saturday, appealing for onions to be sold at “affordable rates”.

They “should not loot consumers”, he added.

The politically sensitive rise in the price of onions comes ahead of five regional assembly polls in November and December, seen as a dress rehearsal for general elections due by May 2014.

The Congress-led government has been struggling to curb imports to counter a record current account deficit, the broadest measure of trade.

But such is its alarm as the state elections near that it plans to import import thousands of tonnes of onions to reduce prices.

India is the world’s second-biggest onion grower after China and normally exports onions, but it has floated a tender to import onions to check the spiral in prices.

The state-run National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) “is interested in importing onions of Pakistan, Iran, China and Egypt origin”, the co-operative said in the tender issued earlier in the week.

NAFED expects to take a decision on the onion tender next Tuesday, Thomas said.

But supplies from abroad may take weeks to arrive, commodity experts say.

The ruling Congress party fears a backlash from the “aam admi” or “common man”, its main voter-support base.

“The sky-high prices of onions have given the opposition a potent weapon to attack the government with,” commented the Hindustan Times newspaper recently.

Costly onions have a history of political fallout, with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being ousted in 1998 Delhi state polls after surging onion prices soured the voter mood.

In January 1980, the late Congress leader Indira Gandhi rode back to power on the back of rising onion prices, waving huge strings of them at campaign rallies and saying that a government has no right to govern if it cannot control onion costs.

The latest onion price rise has also come in the middle of India’s most important religious festival season, an occasion for multi-day feasts and family dinners.

“We always use onions in our cooking but they are something special for us now,” Pinky Singh, a domestic servant, told AFP.

The government blames the steep price rise on middlemen who hoard onions, and extended rains in onion-growing areas that damaged crops.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • ModiFied
    Oct 26, 2013 - 9:42PM

    And congress leaders cheating the nation through multi-billion dollar scams? Who are these congress leaders fooling? Never in Indian history we heard of such massive scams. We hear of a new scam almost every week. Don’t get surprised if you hear of a Onion Scam next week.

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  • Alann
    Oct 27, 2013 - 12:27AM

    @ModiFied:”Don’t get surprised if you hear of a Onion Scam next week.”

    Actually there is RIGHT NOW a scam getting run by Congress in onion trade already. India has more than enough supply of onions for the domestic market. But the government is selling/exporting large portions of the stockpile to other countries. And they are re-importing/buying onions from few other countries atm at higher costs, contributing to inflation and worsening country’s trade deficit.

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  • pi
    Oct 27, 2013 - 1:35AM

    They don’t use the word mafia in India? The onion mafia has a nice ring to it!

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  • Azi
    Oct 27, 2013 - 7:53AM

    Big surprise, this should be a bit more worry some for the lot of Indians on an mission to look for news to trash Pakistan. Save your money, look at the mirror and save your self from yourself.

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  • dj
    Oct 27, 2013 - 2:01PM

    @Azi:
    lol, low class comment as expected.

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  • Azi
    Oct 27, 2013 - 8:48PM

    @dj:

    Low class? you have no answer what so ever but an opinion and you call my comment that contains a legitimate reasoning to the news low class? The much hyped indian brain power is but a myth. Laugh more, people are laughing at you as well.

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  • Gup shup
    Oct 28, 2013 - 7:08PM

    @ dj & Azi
    Stop behaving like adults, and for a change start behaving like kids…
    Play together regardless of color, race, relegion or ethnicity….
    Have fun…

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