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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said state governments did not heed agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's advice some months ago to store onions, which would have helped in maintaining more stable prices of the kitchen staple.
"As Sharad Pawar pointed out that some months ago he as agriculture minister wrote to all state governments to arrange for storage of onions and yet no state government took advantage of that.
"If they had taken advantage of that in the lean season, prices would have been more stable."
Singh further said: "Onion prices are prices which rise and fall depending upon the seasonal change in production. No central government can say that it can control all prices."
Meanwhile, minister of state for agriculture Tariq Anwar in a written reply informed Rajya Sabha that monthly wholesale price index (WPI) of vegetables, including onions, rose from 191 in January this year to 337.3 in July, while onion WPI increased from 340 in January 2013 to 442.6 in July 2013.
"Reasons for fluctuations in prices include seasonality of production, perishable nature of these commodities and mismatch in localised production and demand," he added. To ensure adequate availability of onion, government has imposed a minimum export price of $650 per tonne, Anwar said adding that agri-cooperative Nafed has been asked to import onions.
Pawar recently said he was not in favour of banning onion exports and called the current spurt a ‘temporary’ phenomenon.
“It is not fair to ban export of any agricultural commodity...India has established its position as a major supplier of agricultural items in the global market. If we ban exports, this image will be affected. So, we are against an export ban on onion,” Pawar saidy.
The country's farm exports rose 25.3% to R2,33,000 crore in 2012-13, thanks to unrestricted shipments of several items, including grains, guargum and onion.
Spiralling onion prices were cited as a key reason for the defeat of the BJP in Delhi assembly elections in 1998, and the kitchen bulb has been a politically sensitive item ever since for its wide consumption. India had last banned onion exports in 2011 after prices more than doubled in just one month. Onion prices are likely to be high till October, when the new crop is expected to hit the market.
Although production is expected to be normal in 2013-14, lower harvests in states such as Tamil Nadu has put pressure on supplies from Maharashtra.