Centre draws flak from Parliamentary panel over state of onion silos

The Standing Committee also noted that 51,582.74 million tonnes (MT) of onion had been damaged due to spoilage in the last three years

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Thursday 15 December 2022
Photo: Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava / CSE

Storage facilities for onions run by the Centre are poor and need an immediate overhaul, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution has said in a recent report.

The Standing Committee also noted that 51,582.74 million tonnes (MT) of onion had been damaged due to spoilage in the last three years.

“…the Committee are constrained to note that a quantity of 51,582.74 MT of onion has damaged due to spoilage during the years 2019-20 to 2022-21,” the 23rd Report of the Standing Committee, produced before Parliament December 9, 2022, noted.

“They observe that the price of onions mounted to high during the recent months and damage of such quantity of onion reflects poor management on the part of the Department (of Consumer Affairs) who has also set a target of procurement of 250,000 MT of onion apart from other Essential Commodities in ensuing Budget year of 2022-23,” the report added.

Read Onion crisis: ‘High time Union govt invested in low-cost storage’

The document urged the Department of Consumer Affairs “to take due care for proper storage of onions so as to refrain price fluctuation as and when noticed for facilitating consumers and to prevent black-marketing.”

This was to be done keeping in view the vast procurement of onion and its price fluctuation.

Damming indictment?

Three years ago in 2019, India faced its worst onion price rise since 2010. Prices skyrocketed beyond 150 per kilogram in the winter of 2019 before stabilising.

The government scoured markets in West Asia and Europe for onions. The onions from Egypt, Turkey, the Netherlands and other countries, however, reached late because of several reasons. By the time they arrived, domestic onions flooded the market. Demand was also hit because of differences in taste.

In the end, the imported onions were left to rot at Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port, something which the Standing Committee’s report has now noted.

The Centre, in its defence, said it “accorded utmost importance to reduction of storage loss in onion buffer stocks”.

It noted that the percentage of loss on account of prolonged storage of onion in the buffer in 2021-22, had been reduced to 25.96 per cent from about 28 per cent in 2020-21.

Read The minuscule system of pricing

Onions were traditionally stored in open ventilated chawls and the development of modern scientific technology was still in the experimental stage.

“In order to develop technologies for primary processing, storage and valorisation of onion, the department has initiated a hackathon under the guidance of Chief Innovation Officer, Ministry of Education,” the centre’s reply said.

The hackathon would cover comprehensive solution for the issues in respect of improvement in the design of Kandha Chawls created by farmers, pre-harvest care, primary processing such as drying, treatment for fungal infestation, storage at appropriate temperature and valorisation.

“Onions from the buffer are being released in a targeted and calibrated manner to stabilise prices at local as well as national level by monitoring price trends in various centres, States/UTs and at the all-India level,” the reply added.

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