The farmer protests in Maharashtra against the onion export ban are sponsored by a section of traders as the Centre has stepped up procurement of the essential vegetable from various markets across the country, Union Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh alleged on Monday, reported The Hindu.

Since August, farmers in Maharashtra have been protesting the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s decision to levy a 40% export duty on onions till December 31. However, in December, it banned the export March 2024. The government’s move is aimed at controlling the increasing price of the vegetable.

In November, onion prices rose by 58% because of the rise in demand during the festive season and erratic rainfall. Following this, the Centre on December 7 banned the export of onions till March 2024.

Onion farmers in Maharashtra have opposed the move and launched protests.

However, Singh on Monday dismissed the protests and blamed a section of traders alleging that they were trying to take advantage of the delay in kharif crop harvest, reported The Hindu.

The Central government official also claimed that had the government not intervened on time, onion prices might have crossed Rs 100 per kg. Singh also said that onion prices may fall to less than Rs 40 per kg as early as January, reported PTI.

“The government took the decision taking into account delay in kharif arrival, the quantity of onion exported and global situation such as trade and non-trade restrictions imposed by major suppliers such as Turkey, Egypt and Iran,” the Centre said on Monday. “To ensure that farmers are not adversely affected, the government is continuously procuring onions from the farmers under the Price Stabilisation Fund.”

Opposition parties in Maharashtra have criticised the Centre’s move. On Monday, Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar met the protestors in Nashik and said that he will raise their demands in Delhi.

“We had to take to the streets because of the Union government’s decision to ban export of onions,” Pawar said. “Delhi does not understand the gravity of the problem unless roads are blocked. This agitation has sent a clear message to Delhi that the government will have to revoke the export ban. I would be raising the issue in Parliament to ensure the ban is lifted.”

Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole also led a protest march in Nagpur on Monday.

“The government claims it has announced aid to farmers suffering from drought and unseasonal rains,” Patole said, reported The Indian Express. “But it has yet not reached those farmers. What is the use of mere announcements?”

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said that state ministers will meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi to discuss the issue, reported The Indian Express.