NASHIK: Traders flooded markets across the country with 5 lakh quintals of hoardedonions from August 12 to 15 raking in Rs 150 crore. They had held their stocks back driving up demand and prices.
Between June and July, traders mopped up the onion crop from tillers for an average of Rs 1,500 a quintal. They sold at an average of Rs 4,500 a quintal, the investigation based on interviews with farmers, middlemen, representatives of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) and government, shows. Almost all officials confirmed the findings.Many traders privately concurred with the numbers but publicly denied hoarding. From August 12 retail onion prices have ranged from Rs 55 a kg in Mumbai, Rs 70 in Pune to Rs 80 a kg in Delhi.
On August 12, when the Lasalgaon APMC opened, the average wholesale onion price zoomed to Rs 4,300 per quintal . The next day it soared to Rs 4,500 a quintal. The previous high was Rs 3,200 per quintal in 1998.With a capacity to store 12.5 lakh tonnes, Lasalgaon farmers and traders began hoarding the crop harvested in April and May. Onion usually has a sevenmonth shelf life. "Between July 6 and August 15, APMCs were closed on 19 days. This choked supply. From August 9, when demand peaked, traders made a killing," an APMC Lasalgaon official said. Monsoon added to the scarcity in a small way. Onion traders denied any wrongdoing. "Onion is perishable. Risks of storing are high. Officials inspected godowns and found nothing," Sohanlal Bhandari, president, Nashik District Onion Traders' Association, insisted. "Most of the trade takes place at the APMCs and is government-monitored . There is hardly any chance of hoarding ," a trader said.
These arguments failed to convince activist-cultivators such as Giridhar Patil, "The price rise was because of hoarding," he said. He blamed the state for going soft on the onion lobby.
Recently, the state government directed Nashik APMCs to survey onion stocks with farmers.Sunil Bansode, deputy registrar, Nashik APMC, shared the findings with TOI. Farmers have around 2.5 lakh tonnes, of which 1.35 lakh tonnes are in 66 villages under Lasalgaon APMC. This shows supply crunch was artificial.