With eye on 2019, BJP government in Maharashtra woos onion growers

New Delhi | In the wake of BJP’s defeat in three big states which many attributed to growing farm distress, the party-led Maharasthra government is considering a host of measures like ex-gratia grant and transport subsidy for onion growers to provide them relief against sliding prices.

The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has suffered a rural drubbing in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in recent state polls and the party ruling at the Centre is looking for smart solutions to address agrarian distress ahead of 2019 general elections. Maharashtra is one of the major onion grower states in the country and both the Centre and the state government want to avert onion crisis as opposition parties have decided to raise the farm distress issue to corner the ruling dispensation in the ongoing winter session of Parliament.

According to sources, the Maharashtra government is in the process of finalising intervention measures such as ex-gratia grant and transport subsidy under a central scheme ‘Operation Green’. The ‘Operation Green’ is relatively a new scheme, implemented by the Union Food Processing Ministry, that has a corpus of Rs 500 crore and aims to aid farmers in times of erratic price fluctuation in tomatoes, onions and potatoes.

Sources said the state government is considering seeking transport subsidy under the central scheme for state onion growers to sell especially stored onions in consuming states. It is also working on ex-gratia grant to compensate the affected growers. Onion prices have come under pressure in Maharasthra because of huge arrival of both stored onions as well as fresh kharif crop at a time.

The wholesale price for stored onions is quoting lower owing to poor quality, while the fresh kharif crop is fetching at around Rs 10 per kg, as per the official data. “In November, 50 per cent of the onion that arrived in wholesale mandis in the state comprised largely stored onions. The price quoted was between Rs 3.50 and Rs 4 per kg, which has created unrest among farmers,” another source said.

There is higher quantity of stored onions in the state as farmers had increased area under the crop during the rabi season of the 2017-18 crop year in anticipation of better prices, the source added.

Adding to the crisis is that the kharif onion output in the ongoing 2018-19 crop year (July-June) is expected to be more or less at the last year’s level of 19 lakh tonne in Maharasthra.

Historically, onions are the most nightmarish vegetable for politicians and have played a key role in shaping election results since 1980s. In the past, many governments have fallen due to onion crisis.

The BJP was winning elections after elections ever since the Narendra Modi-led BJP stormed to power at the Centre in May 2014. The loss of power to the main opposition Congress in three major Hindi heartland states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — was a first major defeat of the saffron party ever since Modi took over as the Prime Minister.

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