Farmers held protests in several parts of Maharashtra’s Nashik district on Monday against the Centre’s decision to impose a 40% duty on the export of onions till December 31, PTI reported.

The Union government has imposed the export duty on onions for the first time, saying that the move is aimed at boosting domestic supplies of the kitchen staple and curbing prices.

Protesting farmers, however, claimed that the decision would hurt their chances of getting good prices for the vegetable.

On Monday, demonstrators wore garlands of onions and staged a sit-in agitation on the Nashik-Aurangabad highway. Activists associated with the Late Sharad Joshi Shetkari Sanghatana – a farmers’ union – blocked traffic on the Manmad-Yeola highway in front of the Yeola Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee.

Onion auctions remained closed on Monday at the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee at Lasalgaon, the largest wholesale onion market in India.

On Sunday, onion farmers in Ahmednagar’s Rahuri tehsil had stopped an onion auction at a local wholesale market.

The protestors questioned why the decision was taken at a time when they were already struggling with natural calamities. “Already there is a drought-like situation,” a protesting farmer said, reported PTI. “Now, when we are starting to get good prices for our onions, the Centre takes a decision like this. This is injustice on onion farmers.”

Sandeep Jagtap, the Maharashtra chief of farmers’ union Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, said that the Centre’s “anti-farmer stand” had again come to the fore.

“Farmers in Maharashtra were expecting good returns from onion exports, but the imposed duty has ensured that there will not be any export,” he said. “The prices in the domestic market will crash and farmers will incur losses.”

Onion exports had climbed to 6.38 lakh metric tonnes during April-June, 26.51% higher to 5.04 lakh metric tonnes figure recorded during the same period in 2022, ministry data showed. In June this year, 2.92 lakh metric tonnes of onions was exported, 89.56% higher than 1.54 lakh metric tonnes in the same month last year.

The export duty comes at a time when India’s retail inflation jumped to a 15-month high of 7.44% in July from 4.81% a month ago due to surging food costs. The price rise indicator was 7.79% in April 2022, the highest in eight years.

On Sunday, the Union government increased its onion buffer target to 5 lakh metric tonnes, and said that 3 lakh metric tonnes have already been procured.

“The Department of Consumer Affairs has directed NCCF [National Cooperative Consumers’ Federation of India Limited] and NAFED [National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd] to procure 1.00 lakh tonne each to achieve the additional procurement target alongside calibrated disposal of the procured stocks in major consumption centres,” an official press release stated.

Avoid onions if they are unaffordable: Minister

Amid the row over onion prices, Maharashtra Cabinet minister Dada Bhuse advised people not to eat the vegetable for some months if they could not afford it, The New Indian Express reported.

Bhuse said that farmers should get a good price for their produce. “If some people feel the present onion prices are unreasonable they should stop eating onion for the next three to four months,” he said. “If they don’t eat onion, nothing will happen to their health.”

On the remarks, Nationalist Congress Party leader and state Leader of Opposition Jitendra Awhad said that the government is insensitive towards the problems of consumers as well as farmers.