In a latest bid to save his government from a policy-failure embarrassment, PM Modi has asked Bangladesh to procure the onions, India had imported, after a majority of states withdrew their demand for the food commodity.
The Central government had been “worried” about disposing of imported onions as not many states are interested to take it despite the key kitchen stable is being offered to them at an average landed cost of Rs 55 per kg and bearing the transportation cost. The citied reason for the states’ withdrawal is the delay in the arrival of imported onions, and the ready availability of cheaper local varieties.
At a meeting held on 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.
As of 12 January, 18,000 metric tonnes (MT) of imported onions had arrived in India out of a total contract of 36,000 MT, said the official who didn’t wish to be named.
“Out of the amount of arrived onions, the state governments have only procured around 3,000 MT while the rest of the stock is waiting at Mumbai JNPT port,” the official added.
Maharashtra, Assam, Haryana, Karnataka and Odisha have withdrawn their demand of 10,000 MT, 3,000 MT, 3,480 MT, 250 MT and 100 MT of imported onion, respectively, Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had confirmed earlier this month.
The states had asked for imported onions to deflate the soaring prices — over Rs 100 per kg in November-December — of the commodity, but backed out citing high prices and difference in taste.
This has sparked concern that if states do not lift the imported onions, the commodity will perish. Onion is a highly perishable item which gets depreciated due to rotting and sprouting by 35 per cent in a week.
The official added that 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, added the official.
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 had said.