People in Chennai are confused. With the limited income and soaring prices, they are wondering whether to buy petrol or tomatoes. Because a kilo of tomato — selling at Rs 140 per kilogram — costs nearly 40 per cent more than a litre of petrol, which is selling at Rs 101 in the capital of Tamil Nadu.
Not just in Chennai, in most Indian states and cities tomato is the new gold. In Andhra Pradesh — the country’s largest producer of tomatoes — the vegetable is being sold at Rs 100 a kilo. Incidentally, Andhra Pradesh produces around 26.67 lakh metric tonnes of tomatoes. Similarly, Kerala residents are buying the vegetable at Rs 120 per kilo,while customers in the National Capital Region are shelling out anywhere between Rs 90 to Rs 110 for a kilo of tomatoes, according to news agency PTI.
As per the data, retail tomato prices started rising in October and have been soared this month. The reasons are two-pronged — the unseasonal rains leading to a dip in production and surge in fuel prices adding to the transportation costs. Add to that the overwhelming demand for vegetables in the ongoing wedding season, and you have a perfect soup of price hike.
Widespread moderate to heavy rainfalls during the northeast monsoon since the first week of November due to frequent formations of low-pressure areas in the Bay of Bengal, or cyclonic circulation in the Arabian Sea resulted in the tomato crop being damaged, thereby leading to a tight supply situation. Tomato crops are generally ready for harvest around two to three months after planting. The harvesting is done as per the market requirement. As of now, harvesting is going on in key tomato-cultivating states including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
India, the world’s second-largest tomato producer after China, produces around 19.75 million tonnes from an area of 7.89 lakh hectares with an average yield of 25.05 tonnes per hectare, according to the National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation.
But why single out only tomatoes, when the prices of other veggies like okra, pumpkin, cauliflower and ridge gourd are also soaring?
Vendors in Okhla fruit and vegetable market in the national capital are saying that the purchasers are shopping for much less than usual. And who can blame them? The lower-income category cannot afford most vegetables that form an integral part of a basic meal. Even the middle and higher-income groups are seeing a dent in their monthly budgets.
According to PTI reports quoting Vandana Thappa, a homemaker in Delhi’s Ramesh Nagar, “Every day you go out to buy vegetables the price is more than what it was yesterday. You try bargaining with the vendor, and he tells you that ‘piche se hi mehnga aa raha hai’ (getting it at an increased price from the wholesale market only).”
Obviously, the government is held responsible at some level as the prices of everyday commodities skyrocket and the masses suffer. As the aggravated Thappa says, “The kitchen budget of the poor and middle-class has been badly affected due to the present hike in vegetable prices. The least that the government can do is to keep a check on the price of vegetables. But then, they just won’t.”
And the Opposition was quick to take a pot shot at the government. The Congress that has been consistently slamming the government for rising inflation, has now said that the government has “imposed section 144 in the kitchen when it comes to tomatoes and onions.”
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera reportedly said, “It appears as though there is Section 144 in the kitchen that you cannot keep more than four tomatoes or onions. Why is it that the farmers find it difficult to produce these commodities [vegetables] because of the input cost, which is very high? We have been repeating here, GST on agricultural equipment, the price of DAP [Di-Ammonium Phosphate fertilizer], the price of diesel, after all, all these commodities come from various parts of the country to the Azadpur Mandi in Delhi.”
Meanwhile, the MK Stalin-government in Tamil Nadu has decided to procure 15 metric tonnes (MT) of tomatoes from cooperatives and sell it in the market within the range of Rs 85-100, as opposed to approximately Rs 140 sold in the open markets.
The crisis will end soon, say traders. According to SP Gupta, former Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) chairman of Ghazipur Mandi, the skyrocketing vegetable prices will start showing some sign of easing next month with the arrival of new crops in the market.
Till that happens and veggies become more affordable, we perhaps have to learn to cook and eat without tomatoes.