Onion costs dearly to tourists

| 23 September 1998 10:45 IST

Besides the household in general, the onion price hike has severely affected the tourism industry in Goa. Whether the restaurant is vegetarian or non-vegetarian, onion is a must for every customer, prices of which have skyrocketed in the tourist state today, while the season is hardly a week away to begin.

Goa neither produces nor markets onions directly from the market yard to the retailer or the hoteliers. Wholesalers here buy it from APMC market yards from Belgaum, the nearest market in Karnataka, and sell it to the retailers, adding the cost of yard commission of five per cent, eight per cent tax and transport cost of Rs 40 behind every bag, besides his normal profits.

As a result, the onion available in the Belgaum market yard at the rate of Rs 25 per kg today is being sold by the retailer at Rs 30 per kg and even Rs 32 in some interior parts. With more than half of the onion going to the restaurants, the tourist state imports minimum 75 tonnes of onion every day worth Rs 18.75 lakh today, which otherwise costs at the most Rs three lakh, at Rs 4 per kg.

Though Goa's population is hardly 12 lakh, equal number of tourists visit the state, mostly during seven months, from October to April. Last five months however have been a nightmare for all the hoteliers here with onion price alone zooming up from Rs eight per kg to Rs 30 per kg today, during the slack season.

"We cannot even hike the food prices since general public is already not in a position to visit the restaurants and eat lavishly as the case was in the past. Our profit has thus gone down by 50 per cent, whether you believe it or not", says Gurudas Madkaikar, owner of Panaji's Sangeeta 1 Up and La Pavilion of Mapusa, the favourite joints for Goan and continental non-vegetarian food.

The case in pure vegetarian restaurants is no different. "With prices hiking three fold, we are left with no other option than to use less onion in each of our item, affecting the quality we are known for", admits Ramdas Pai, manager of Kamat Hotel, the series of Udupi hotels spread all along the coastal belt in India.

The common man, on the other hand, considers onion as a luxury today. Despite loads of fish dumped in the market all over the state, the fish-lover Goan is forced to control his appetite for their favourite fish recipes, in which onion is a must. They are waiting for the prices to come down.

"It is an artificial shortage created by the 'dalals' in the market. Instead of bringing the onion to the market yard, they dispose it off directly from the fields, paying average price to the farmer and making huge profits in the bargain", discloses Hemant Prabhu, the wholesale dealer from Panaji. "I have even heard that they are exporting onions, in collusion with the authorities", he alleges.

He firmly believes that no such artificial shortage can be created if the government authorities deal with such illegal trade with a firm hand and brings the agricultural produce to the market yard, to sell it from there at a moderate and affordable price. Quite a huge amount of quantity is also being sold directly to the manufacturers of onion paste, he points out, which has not allowed the yard prices to come down.

Heavy rains however is the general reason posed in the market survey, due to which the onion is still lying in the fields, waiting for harvest. A dry spell of a week is enough to dry it and bring it in the market, after which the wholesalers as well as the retailers expect the prices to come down to Rs three or Rs four. "We are otherwise left with no option than to hike our food prices", cautions Pai.

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Agriculture