Onion Export Ban: Could It Impact Bihar Elections?

The Department of Commerce imposed the ban after the prices of onions doubled in Maharashtra’s Lasalgaon market.

Updated
India
4 min read
Onions worth Rs 30 crore are stuck at the Mumbai port. Image used for representational purpose.
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The Union government’s recent decisions have led to farmers’ spilling on to the roads in protest. Farmers, agitating in many cities of Maharashtra have, referred to the ban as 'cheating'.

The Centre has implemented a ban on the export of onions, leading to around 7,000 tonnes of onion being stuck at the Mumbai port. Further, there is anger among onion traders after trading in Maharashtra's largest onion mandi in Lasalgaon was stopped.

When Was Onion Export Banned?

The Centre on Monday, 14 September, decided to stop the export of onions with immediate effect.

The Department of Commerce imposed the ban after the average trade prices of onions at Maharashtra’s Lasalgaon wholesale market touched Rs 30 per kg, double of what it was in March.

Onion Export Ban: Could It Impact Bihar Elections?

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What Are The Farmers Saying?

Ajit Navale, farmers’ leader, has alleged that the BJP government, in the centre, “has taken a U-turn” and cheated the farmers for the sake of Bihar elections.

“The government has taken a U-turn. The government has once again cheated the framers. Keeping Bihar elections in mind, farmers have been sacrificed.”   
Ajit Navale, farmers’ leader

Sunil Nirgunde, a farmer from Nashik, told The Quint that they have already incurred losses amid the COVID-19 lockdown, and an export ban, just when the prices had risen, will further add to their problems.

Onions had to be sold for Rs 9-10 per kg during the lockdown, and half the stock got washed away in rain.

“We will have to face a huge loss because we suffered loss during the lockdown too. Markets were shut for a long time but now when the markets have opened and we are getting a good price, after the central government’s decision on export ban we have got to know that onion prices  have fallen and because of this farmers will have to suffer big losses.”   
Sunil Nirgunde

What are Experts Saying?

The government could  have found a midway solution which would have prevented the rise of onion prices.
The government could  have found a midway solution which would have prevented the rise of onion prices.
(Photo: PTI)

Experts are of the opinion that instead of putting a blanket ban, the government could  have found a midway solution which would have prevented the rise of onion prices and wouldn't have led to farmers' protest.

The government could have fixed the export price and could have taken out the NAFED stock, some suggested.

“There will be a sudden ban on export and this will impact those who already have the export contract in hand. The government should have thought of all this before taking any decision. I believe their decision should be reviewed and the ban should be revoked.”   
G Chandrashekhar, Agriculture Expert 

What Has India to Lose from the Ban?

Onions worth $44 crore were exported in 2019, where as in 2020, so far, onions worth only $19.8 crore could be exported. However, onions worth Rs 30 crore are stuck at the Mumbai port.

According to the Director General of Foreign trade, onions that were being sold at Rs 3,200 per quintal are now being sold for Rs 2,200 per quintal.

Sharad Pawar Decries the Ban

(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)
NCP members protest the onion export ban.

NCP President Sharad Pawar has requested the central government through a tweet to reconsider their decision on onion export ban.

“The central government has abruptly announced a ban on onion exports.  This has led to strong reactions from the onion growing belt in Maharashtra and therefore the representatives of various political parties contacted and requested me to convey their demands to Central Government.”   
Sharad Pawar, NCP President

He also said that there is a high demand for onions in the international market, and, hence, this doesn't appear to be a decision in favour of the farmers. Further, Pawar alleged that Pakistan can make use of this opportunity.

“Another question is that when price of other edible products too have increased then why this ban only on onions?”   
Sharad Pawar   

How Do the Upcoming Bihar Elections Complicate the Ban?

Former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has written letters to Piyush Goyal demanding an immediate lifting of the ban.

Fadnavis also has a strange dilemma before him: If he wants to be active in Maharashtra politics then he will have to speak in favour of the onion farmers and will have to answer them. On the other hand, as an election in-charge in Bihar, he will have to take care that the rise in onion prices should not lead to a drop in their vote share.

Onion prices were rising to Rs 50-60 kg and that could have impacted Bihar elections. Therefore, the government had to increase the supply of onions to bring down the price. Thus, came in the export ban.

However, another question that remains unanswered is if it is fair for the BJP government to bring Maharashtra farmers on the road to save its seat in Bihar.

(This piece has been published with inputs from Quint Hindi. Read the original story here.)

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