Maharashtra’s farmers hit out at Centre’s onion export ban

Onion farmers across Maharashtra protested on Tuesday over the Narendra Modi government’s decision to ban export of the bulb.

Sharp condemnations were issued by major farmer outfits like Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, the All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), and the Sadabhau Khot-led Rayat Kranti Sanghatana, all of whom ascribed political motives behind the Centre’s move.

In the onion-producing hub of Nashik, protests erupted in Lasalgaon — which houses Asia’s largest onion market — as well as in Manmad, with irate farmers raising slogans against the Central government while demanding an immediate rollback of the export ban.

Dr. Ajit Nawale, State general secretary, AIKS, said the Centre, by banning onion exports under the Foreign Trade Act, 1992, had betrayed farmers in Maharashtra and the country. “The Modi government’s decision has been taken purely in light of the upcoming Bihar elections in a bid to appease the public by reducing onion prices. So, in effect, Maharashtra’s farmers have been sacrificed at the altar of realpolitik to please Bihar’s electorate,” claimed Dr. Nawale.

The steady rise in wholesale onion prices (with the average trading price per kg of onion in Lasalgaon hovering around the ₹35 mark) is believed to have been one of the chief reasons behind the ban on exporting onions.

Dr. Nawale said the ban had once again exposed the anti-farmer face of the Modi government. He said, “The Centre recently announced the exclusion of five types of essential commodities, including onions. Pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) farmer unions as well as other outfits had hailed the Modi government’s announcement and exulted in it. This cruel U-turn has revealed the government’s true colours.”

Observing that the country had a record production of onions this season, Dr. Nawale said despite onion prices increasing slightly in September owing to supply chain issues, the rise, however, was only temporary. “Besides, onions produced in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka will also be available in the market. In such a scenario, it is unlikely that any serious problem of scarcity will arise in the near future,” he said, adding that the AIKS would hit the streets and oppose the export ban.

‘Astounding betrayal’

Mr. Shetti said the government’s sudden decision to ban export of onions would have a major impact on farmers already distressed economically by the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic. “Since the past four months, farmers had been selling onions at throwaway prices at ₹4-₹5 per kilo. Now, when farmers have started to make some money owing to surplus production of onions, comes this astounding betrayal on part of the Centre. Just a few days ago, this same Centre was talking of justice for onion growers,” Mr. Shetti said, adding that whenever any opportunity has arisen for farmers to make a profit, the Centre came up with some anti-farmer measures.

Mr. Khot said owing to the Centre’s sudden volte-face, thousands of tonnes on onions were languishing in more than 300 container trucks that had been halted on the Indo-Bangladesh border, and a further 400 containers primed for loading at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai.

“On the one hand, the Central government tries to put a farmer-friendly face with its ‘Kisan Rail’ and Ek Desh Ek Bazaar [One Nation One Market] schemes, while putting such autocratic export bans on the other. Are these schemes mere lip service?” questioned Mr. Khot, whose outfit is an ally of the National Democratic Alliance in Maharashtra.

Remarking that farmers had borne enormous financial losses in the six months of the COVID-19-induced lockdown, he said he would personally join the protesting farmers in Nashik.

‘Might sever ties with BJP’

“We may even consider severing ties with the BJP if the Centre does not roll back the export ban,” Mr. Khot warned, adding that such sudden measures taken without issuing any proper notification, had sown distrust among farmers regarding the Centre’s policies.

Terming the decision a “big mistake”, State Agriculture Minister Dada Bhuse said the ban needs to be immediately revoked.

“Maharashtra contributes to more than 70% of India’s onion exports… this decision is a grave injustice for the State’s farmers. I believe Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray will be speaking with the Prime Minister over this matter,” said Mr. Bhuse.

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