Onions are a staple diet for the majority of people in India. Indians are said to consume approximately 15 million tonnes of onions per year. The rise in the price of onion, a mandatory feature in Indian kitchens, has made the vegetable an out-of-reach produce for ordinary Indians.
Shelling out Rs 70-80 to buy a kilo of onions is bound to pinch the common man. In the last fortnight, onions prices have shot up leaving consumers teary-eyed. So much so, that government run primary schools in Odisha have stopped using onion while preparing the midday meal for students.
Not just onions, garlic and ginger prices too have gone up, which has prompted most primary schools in rural Odisha to replace egg curry in midday meals with boiled eggs, which the children are forced to eat with rice soaked in water.
Some schools in towns and cities are still serving egg curry but they are cooking it without onions or ginger, rendering it tasteless. “With the prices of onions, ginger and garlic rising, it’s no longer possible to prepare egg curry. We are serving rice and boiled eggs to the children,” the headmaster of a primary school in Cuttack district said.
“We are finding it hard to even cook the soyabadi (soya nuggets) curry without onions, ginger and garlic,” the headmaster added.
Nearly 5.87 lakh students of primary and upper primary classes (I to VIII) are covered under the midday meal scheme in Odisha. As per the Midday Meal Scheme of Government of Odisha, the students are to be served the following food as per the weekly menu:
- Monday – Bhata and Dalma (cooked rice with a dish prepared with vegetables and lentil)
- Tuesday – Bhata and Soya Badi curry (cooked rice and soya nuggets curry)
- Wednesday – Bhata and Egg curry (Cooked rice and egg curry)
- Thursday – Bhata and Dalma
- Friday – Bhata and Soya Badi curry
- Saturday – Bhata and Egg curry.
*Fruits to be served to vegetarian students instead of eggs.
Onions, which are not only rich in minerals and vitamin C but also add significantly to the taste of a curry, now cost Rs 65-70/kg in local markets. A fortnight ago, they sold at Rs 35-40/kg. Ginger prices have touched Rs 160/kg and garlic costs around Rs 200/kg.
The headmaster of a school in Maurbhanj district said it was becoming hard to even afford boiled eggs. “A primary school’s budget is Rs 4.93 per midday meal but an egg costs Rs 5 to Rs 5.50. We have been forced to compromise on the quality of even vegetarian meals because of the prices of vegetables,” he said.
He said that when the school sometimes serves egg curry cooked without onion, the children refuse the tasteless gravy and eat only the egg with rice and water.
School and Mass Education Minister Samir Ranjan Dash said the government was “aware of the issue”, reports the Telegraph. “Almost all the schools in the state have banished the onion from their midday meal kitchen. The Centre should step in. Until the onion prices drop, we can’t ask the schools to cook egg or soya badi curry with onions,” he said.
Onion traders said the price was directly proportional to the gap between demand and supply. “Odisha needs 3.67 lakh tonnes of onion a year but we produce only 1.5 lakh tonnes,” an official said.
“We have to depend on Nashik (Maharashtra), Rajahmundry (Andhra Pradesh) and Bengaluru (Karnataka) to make up for the shortfall. The floods in Maharashtra that have damaged crops, have severely hit Odisha’s markets.”
Ranendra Pratap Swain, Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Minister said, “Unseasonal rain in onion-growing states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka has hit procurement and raised the prices.” He further added, “Onion prices are likely to rise by another Rs 6 to Rs 10. If required, we’ll intervene in the market.”
According to sources, the Odisha government wrote to all the District Collectors on Wednesday evening asking them to have onions sold at cost price in government outlets.