The sharp decline in the wholesale onion prices due to the increase in supply and unsold stock at Lasalgaon Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) is seen as the lowest in the recent years. However, it can be said that the political tussle within the state and central BJP leadership (between Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari) has ultimately led to the procedural lapses that snowballed into this crisis.
On 10 August, in a meeting held at Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari's office, the Centre had directed the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) to step in and begin procurement of excess onions directly from farmers after receiving proposal on the local market rates to the Centre in a couple of days from the state governments.
The decision – that NAFED to begin procurement of excess onions from Nashik at market rate and that the cost to be borne equally by the Centre and the state – was taken in the meeting.
The meeting was attended by Union ministers Nitin Gadkari, Subhash Bhamre and Radha Mohan Singh; minister of state for agriculture and horticulture Sadabhau Khot; minister of cooperation, marketing and textile Subhash Deshmukh; veteran NCP leader Sharad Pawar and Swambhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetty in Delhi.
However, sources in the ministry told Firstpost that Maharashtra state government's failure to submit the said proposal on time sparked the decline in the prices of the onions. As the proposal was not submitted on time, the farmers were unable to sell onions directly to NAFED which resulted in their loss.
Interestingly, in a bid to tackle the crisis, senior NCP leader and former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar enquired into the failure of submission of the proposal to some of the state and Union ministers late on Wednesday night. Following which, the ministers from state's co-operation, marketing and textile department, on Thursday (public holiday), completed the proposal, got it signed by the chief minister and sent it to the Centre.
Once the proposal is okayed, the farmer will get the grant of Re1 per kg and the burden of Rs 30 crore will be borne by the state and will benefit over 3 lakh farmers.
Hinting about a tussle within the BJP top leadership, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the sources said, has been reluctant and asked his ministers to go slow on these meetings called by Gadkari. Fadnavis doesn’t want Gadkari to take the credit for sorting out the issues like onion prices and roads pertaining to the state, the sources added.
It is learnt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had directed Nitin Gadkari and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh to sort out the onion price issue. However, according to the sources, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has been playing down PM's wish.
Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari – known for speedy and result-oriented work – has been actively taking the lead in sorting out the issues like roads, onion prices and Mahad Bridge tragedy by holding regular meetings with the state ministers.
Senior NCP leader Sharad Pawar said that the state government is wholly responsible for the dropping onion prices. It is sheer negligence from state and the chief minister is answerable to the poor farmers, Pawar lashed out.
On Tuesday, a farmer from Karanjgaon village in Nashik district claimed that he got the rate of 5 paise per kg for onions, prompting him to dump his produce of 13 quintals in his field in protest, even as a trader blamed "poor quality" of bulb for the low price.
Sudhakar Darade, who hails from Niphad taluka, said his onions got valued at Rs 5 per quintal (100 kg) at Saikheda sub-agriculture produce market committee (APMC) on Tuesday. He said his entire produce of 13 quintals was offered a rate of Rs 65 in total. He, however, claimed to have sold only 200 quintals.
The distressed farmer said he incurred more than Rs 700 per acre for cultivating onions and paid Rs 780 towards transportation charges for bringing the produce to the APMC. Upset over the valuation, Darade returned home and threw 13 quintal of onion in his field.
Swabhiman Shetkari Sangh leader and MP Raju Shetty also held state government responsible for this. "The officers who are sitting on the proposal that needs to be sent to the Centre should be immediate sacked," Shetty told Firstpost. Like the previous government, this BJP-led government has also too wronged the farmers, he added.
Nitin Gadkari's active involvement in the state's affair:
On 28 July, surprisingly, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and senior official attended a meeting to sort out national highway condition with Mumbai-Goa highway and BPT issue at NCP chief Sharad Pawar official residence at 6 Janpath.
On 6 August, Nitin Gadkari said that the government has to bear the responsibility for the tragedy where two state-run buses and some private vehicles were swept away after a British-era bridge over the Savitri river in Konkan’s Mahad collapsed. “We are in the government. As the government, we have to bear responsibility for the tragedy,” he had said.
On 10 August, with onion prices falling sharply in Maharashtra, the Centre reviewed the price situation and discussed the possibility of buying more onions from farmers to protect their interest. The issue was discussed at a meeting convened by Nitin Gadkari.
TV9 video of the meeting attended by veteran NCP leader Sharad Pawar and Transport Minister Nitin Desai.