Elections Were Fought Over Potato & Onion Prices. Now They Aren’t Even on Essential Commodities List

Social Commentary

Elections Were Fought Over Potato & Onion Prices. Now They Aren’t Even on Essential Commodities List

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The Monsoon Session of the Indian Parliament this year, being held as it is in the midst of a pandemic, is turning out to be an eventful one. Whether that is for the right reasons or not, time will tell. However, it is a session in which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition has passed several bills that will have a major impact on Indian farmers despite strong resistance from the Opposition. The latest bill is an amendment to the Essential Commodities Act that removes cereals, pulses, potato, onion, edible oilseeds, and oils from the list of essential commodities.

Essential commodities are those goods whose supply the government ensures to maintain the normal life of the citizenry. Under the Essential Commodities Act, the government can regulate the production, supply, and distribution of any product that comes under the list. This is a measure to prevent hoarding, black-marketing, and price-gouging which would harm consumers. The removal of this range of food items from the list has caused a stir, particularly against the backdrop of the government banning the export of onions and passing controversial farm reforms in Parliament.

The official position of the government is that the bill will have a positive impact for farmers as well as consumers. Danve Raosaheb Dadarao, the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, said that the bill “will create a positive environment not only for farmers but also for consumers and investors.”

But others have seen it as a move toward crony capitalism, with the biggest beneficiaries of these new laws being large corporates, who will have the freedom to buy agricultural produce from farmers at a low price before selling to consumers at a high profit.

Others wondered about what other items the government would replace daily staples like onion and potatoes on the essential commodities list with.

Gandhiji popularised the hunger strike as a means of protesting an unjust government, but this latest amendment to the Essential Commodities Act is the first time a government might be making food unavailable to its populace.