New Delhi: Onion prices continued to reign at as much as Rs 100 a kg in major cities, with the government indicating that rates may start falling after Diwali and some states taking their own initiatives to ease the situation.
Blaming hoarding for the price rise, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister K V Thomas asked traders not to "loot" consumers. He also said there was no need to be "alarmed" about the crisis as prices would cool down in the next 10 days with improved arrivals from the domestic and overseas markets.
"Onion prices will come down in next 10 days. Traders should take legitimate margin and not loot consumers. Farmers should get reasonable price and consumers should also get onions at affordable rates," Thomas said at an event here.
The Cabinet Secretary reviewed the onion price situation, but sources said no major decisions were taken. The Agriculture Ministry took stock of the crop situation in producing states via video conferencing.
A team from poll-bound Delhi reached Maharashtra to procure cheaper onions, while the West Bengal government has made arrangements to sell onions at lower rates.
As per reports from centres, retail prices continued at Rs 60-90 per kg in major cities, depending on location and quality. In Delhi, prices were at Rs 80-100 per kg.
However, official data showed the average retail price in 57 major cities stood at Rs 75 per kg today.
State governments have been asked to take strong action against hoarders and a few states have already acted, he said.
Prithviraj Chavan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, the country`s largest onion producer, ruled out any hoarding in the state and said the situation would improve from next month with higher arrivals of fresh crops.
Thomas said he discussed the supply situation with the Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Karnataka governments and onion arrivals are improving.
"Nafed has floated a tender (to import onion) and the decision will be taken on Oct 29. After the decision, onions will arrive in 3-4 days," the minister said.
"Our analysis is that production is as good and even better than last year but the prices have remained higher," he said.
Chavan informed Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit about the availability of onions in the state. The visiting Delhi government team will purchase onions from Nashik.
"I have suggested to Dikshit to directly involve the government machinery to make the purchases. After accounting for the transport cost, the Delhi administration may be able to sell onions to people at a price of Rs 50/55 per kg.
"If a truck carrying onions travels non-stop from here to Delhi, it will take only 24 hours to land the consignment in the national capital," said Chavan, who spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a function.
Concerned over high prices, the West Bengal government has made arrangements to sell onions at Rs 36 per kg through 40 stores.
In Punjab, traders have imported onions via the Attari Wagah land route, although the quality is inferior and the vegetable is being consumed in the state itself.
"There is not much onion crop available in Afghanistan. Therefore the arrivals into India are as low as 60-80 tonnes per day," Amritsar-based vegetable trader Anil Mehra said.
The Union Food Minister emphasised the need to balance the supply situation in the case of onions, potatoes and tomatoes with the help of cold storage facilities.
"In vegetables like onion, tomato and potato, there is period of plenty and there is situation of scarcity. We need to balance with more use of cold storage and warehousing facilities," Thomas said.
The Warehousing Development Regulatory Authority (WDRA) has been asked to explore the possibility of storing onions grown in the rabi (winter crop) season to avert any such crisis next year.
Nafed is prepared to procure onions during the season of plenty and supply to states during the lean season, the minister said.
"Unfortunately, that has not worked. Nafed has very good cold-storage facilities," he said.